Monday, June 29, 2009
In the wake of today’s sentencing of Bernie Madoff, NPR has spent a lot of time talking about the ruling¸ interviewing his ‘victims.’ All day I’ve been trying to write as I hear angry people unload on the failed investor and soon-to-be guest of the state for the next 150 years or so.
But something doesn’t quite sit right here, and I think I figured out what’s bothering me. Amid the outrage, and the tarring and feathering of a convenient--and, granted, deserving target--a couple of things are getting lost.
One: a cardinal rule of every con game is that ‘victims’ are eager to be fleeced. They put their own heads in the noose because they are greedy. The con man offers something for nothing, and the mark says, ‘Well, oh my goodness, yes! Why, I must be terribly clever and lucky to have stumbled onto this!’
The key, and what makes all con games work, is that the con artist makes the mark believe he is the one doing the conning. They make the mark think he is smarter than everyone else. The pigeon must believe he's the hawk.
‘Victims?’ Really? I mean, is it just me, or is it kinda tough to get it up in the sympathy department when it comes to, say, Steven Speilberg losing a few million dollars out of his billions?
People used to beg to be taken on as clients to Madoff’s firm. Why? Because he offered them something for nothing, a magical way they could do better than everyone else. So, speaking of his former clients as victims seems a little disingenuous to me. Did they not get rich, albeit temporarily? (And really, when you look at his client list, what I mean to say here is that they got richER.) Did they not enjoy the fruits of his scam for a very long time before it came crashing down? And did they not consider, somewhere in their minds, for just one moment, that a 12 to 15 percent return year after year might somehow be unsustainable?
(Sidebar: this is what doomed newspapers as well: the go-go 90s model of any and every company expecting to increase its profits by 20 percent a year, and investors demanding that kind of ridiculous return meant that publishers were forced to cut, trim, slice and dice until their product no longer had the intrinsic value that made it worth investing in in the first place. But anyway.)
This is not meant in any way to belittle or diminish the very real losses and financial pain that Madoff caused individuals, charitable institutions, and universities. The scale is unfathomable. But let’s face it: Madoff is a convenient whipping boy, a scapegoat for an entire system built on a con. The latest bust has exposed it brutally, but it has only exposed it AGAIN. We’ve seen this movie before.
And that’s the second point: while people are getting all excited about Madoff dying in prison, whipping themselves into a schadenfreuderific frenzy, they are failing to notice that the same dipshit system is being allowed to continue. Madoff is a drop in the bucket. The tut-tutting over Madoff’s ponzi scheme seems a tad hollow when you stop to consider that the whole damn thing is a ponzi scheme.
And guess what: you and I are not anywhere near the top.
ADDENDUM: Look at that chart at the top of this post. Dude, if you are able to lose 7.5 billion fucking dollars, I gots no sympathy for you. Fuck right the fuck off. If you have ever POSSESSED $7.5 billion, even in the fake-ass Wall Street pretend money that was flowing upward until recently, fuck right the fuck off. Can I get an amen?