A number of years ago I fielded a phone call from a fellow who had purchased a piece of land in the middle of nowhere. His intent was to build a hunting cabin. The problem was that he wanted electricity and the nearest power lines were a mile away.
“They want to charge me $15,000 to bring power in”, he said.
“Yes, I know. It’s very expensive to clear a trail through the woods and install poles and run a line”, I replied.
“So I was thinking”, he said, “That I could get a generator and have it run a motor that drives the generator. Do you know where I could get something like that?”
I was agape for several seconds. “You understand that what you are describing is a perpetual motion machine?”
I patiently explained that the laws of physics prevent you from creating energy out of nothing. All real-world processes are lossy, and the universe is slowly running downhill. In the end I suggested he get a gasoline-powered generator and be done with it.
This incident was eye-opening to me. As an engineer, I assume that every person has some innate sense of how the world works – of what is and isn’t possible. Apparently not.
So with that realization, I offer the following suggestion to anyone that wants to take up my proposal. You and I should each take $20 from our respective pockets and put it in a box. I will then sell you the box for $30.
Since you will be paying $30 for a box with $40 in it, you will make a $10 profit. Since I originally put in $20 but am getting $30 back, I will make a $10 profit. Win-win. We can do this over and over until we both get rich!