The 70-year old Mr. Madoff is being put away for two lifetimes as punishment for illegally looting his fellow-travelers on life's journey. Now begins the fruitless analyses, the breathless gossip, even the spiteful but all-too-typical blame-the-victims-not-the-perpetrator orgy. When you think about it, how could anyone fall for hot tips from a guy named made-off (like a thief in the night)? Wouldn't the very name give one a subliminal message to be wary? As for me, I'm not into that. I wonder, did Mr. Madoff get nervous once he'd embarked on his accumulating scam? Did his doctor worry about Bernie's blood pressure? Did he get an addictive adrenaline jolt as he inched out further and further along the high wire of deception? Did he, say, enjoy what he was doing (just didn't enjoy getting caught, so now he blubbers contrition)?
What I am is, well, curious, like going to an aquarium and descending to the far bottom level to stare at the exotic deep sea creatures with their fantastical shapes, weird color patterns, under-shot jaws with jutting sabre-teeth, a tiny light dangling from their foreheads, alien, frightening, uglier than sin. Then I realize that these strange creatures and I share some of the same DNA because we both spring from the same long-ago speck of replicating life here on Earth. We are cousins. So, too, are Bernie and I, you and I and Bernie, even closer cousins.
|Does this mean Madoffscams are inevitable? The poor we have always with us (also the rich). A fool and his money are soon parted. There's a sucker born every minute. Move along, nothing to see here. After all, there are even bigger sharks swimming away untouched with even bigger loot, like bank bailouts, like government itself. Maybe Bernie's problem is that he in the end had a conscience of a sort, or just ran out of rope, perhaps, lacking the final brass balls killer instinct? He was a Sweet Ol' Boy (hereinafter referred as an SOB) modern style; he wanted to be popular, and loved, some one said. Human beings are social animals, even those of us who profess to despise our fellow humans want recognition of some kind, not to mention leaving a mark on the future, which usually means spreading our DNA around (if conquering the world is not an option like Gengis Khan, that is).
Just as life struggled up from primordial slime, survival of the fittest or the cleverest is still going on. Where is the difference among drunken Vikings raging out of the thane's hall to ravage the monasteries of Ireland, Somali pirates hijacking a freighter, or a Wall Street financier shearing herds of sheep "investors?" It's all loot, no matter how you paint it. Where is the difference among the romantic Governor Sanford, Casanova, or any carnal mat? It's spreading DNA, no matter how you paint it. Even animals steal, for some species their ecological niche or business plan is based on theft, like the cuckoo bird.
SOBs abound, maybe we should just get used to them? Acknowledging the prevalence of SOBs leads some to sneer at their victims while reminding us all that a free market will in the long run winnow out the weak, the unprepared, and the unworthy to survive, thus making the species stronger---- Darwin triumphant, so don't interfere by inventing nanny government regulations. Too bad if you're a victim, but you deserved it (unspoken: "unlike me, you're a born loser"). The magnificent creative destruction of capitalism requires the existence of both SOBs and victims, so suck it up; it is your responsibility to defend yourself.
Such an attitude is the ultimate scam, and here is why. It's getting crowded in here. No more frontier, no moving on to vacant pastures. Records in the earth often show us that dominant species seem to have a final bloom in their last era, when they overwhelm resources or their ecological niche changes forever but they cannot adapt, and so they have one last fling in their multitudes, whether trilobite or dinosaur. Human beings may well be at that point, and doomsday predictions of all sorts abound, often hinging on the year 2012 for various reasons.
In any case, we are rumored to be the intelligent social animal, and, whether we like it or not, we really are all in this together. Incredibly, our worst enemy, anxious to do us in, is not each other, it is more like the uncaring Universe as it culls the herds, just as it has done repeatedly over the eons. Ultimately, will-ye or nill-ye, we human beings will rise and fall as one species. To outfox the Universe by living together successfully in large groups in the future without destroying each other requires one ironclad dominant characteristic. That characteristic is Trust.
Madoffscams, like all frauds, are based on betraying trust. Lies, deceit, none of it can occur without both intent to deceive and an acceptance by a victim who may be sneered at as gullible by the fraudster ("he cooperated in his own downfall, he wanted to believe"). Without trust there is not only no commerce, there is no real family or social life, and "life" is indeed Hobbesian, brutish and short, that is, the life of dumb animals adrift in the struggles of natural selection.
Trust, once betrayed is not easily restored, if ever. Fraud, engaged in by an individual, always for personal gain (and fraud by a corporation is engendered to begin with by an individual, it is not an impersonal invention of a computer, or even "the system"), really involves horrendous theft from the future for short term loot in the present. The financial scams of AIG and Wall Street stole from future production. Example: Joseph Stiglitz in The Nation on 28 March 2009 estimated that the "mistakes" of Wall Street which resulted in the economic meltdown cost us not just the $700 billion bailout money but almost a $3 trillion shortfall between the economy's potential output and its actual output which resulted from the crisis. This does not even begin to put a price tag on the baleful influence that loss of trust will exert on future endeavors, or where we will go from here, living together as a species. Even a little fraud, if there can be said to be such a thing, is thus a betrayal and a theft from the future.
If ever there was a potentially mortal sin that attacks humanity as a whole, it is betrayal of Trust. That is what Bernie Madoff did, as did Wall Street with the complicated American financial house of cards which was based on finespun free market theories of short-term profits, regardless of long-term results. These theories, which provide remarkably descriptive equations and formulae for personal free market success explicitly and deliberately leave out any running formulae for over-all future results for humanity. That is what we must deal with, and figure out how to structure our financial house so that such betrayal of trust, especially if based on these theories, will be far more difficult to devise. Papering over the chasm with plain re-regulation ignores this lesson, and will only set us up for a worse meltdown some day, when we may be even less able to deal with it. This is a teaching moment, the Universe is demanding that we evolve another increment. Bernie was that canary in the coal mine. Let us not ignore the message.