Bernie Madoff’s story is a very interesting tale of greed and deception. The actions of him and many of his associates present interesting questions about the occurrence of crime in financial industries. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the behavior of Madoff and his involvement in his ponzi scheme. This essay will also investigate some of the laws that exist to control white color crime and contrast those laws to street crimes. Finally this essay will examine how cultural norms with regard to white-collar crime has shifted in the last decade and the impacts of those shifts.
It is impossible to understand totally what Bernie Madoff was thinking as he conducted his scam. It appears that greed and the desire to appear successful and rich may have contributed to his behavior. The upper echelons of society are very competitive and many will do anything to win. This appears to be a sociopathic type of behavior. Madoff seems to not trust the value of money and the trust of other people.
In some aspects, Madoff may have felt justified in his swindle. Many people seemed to hand over their money too quickly without vetting his methods beforehand. Madoff probably believed that these “suckers” deserved to be separated from his money. The AP (2011) reported that Madoff insists that the entire is a ponzi scheme; “He said in the New York magazine interview the Securities and Exchange Commission “looks terrible in this thing,” and he said the “whole government is a Ponzi scheme.”
It is clear that Madoff is attempting to remove responsibility from his own actions. This is understandably human, but he may have a point. Madoff’s $65 billion is merely less than one-half of the entire GDP and he is not as big as criminal as it may seem. He is also correct in the fact that under the Federal Reserve System of issuing American money is rooted in no real value other than the paper it is written on. Madoff may have been taking his cues from spheres of larger influence.
Attitudes Towards White Collar Crime
Madoff received a 150-year prison sentence for his actions in his business fraud. This appears that the court system is becoming tougher on crime. Kramer (2012) recently reported that “for years, white collar criminals routinely received a “slap on the wrist” — sentences of probation, or at worst a prison term measured in months, not years. The current sentencing regime is a reaction to that, and to the damage that major fraudsters do to the economy.” Although Madoff is being punished in this case, along with some others, this does not necessarily mean that society’s attitudes are being best served.
In the Madoff story, the Securities and Exchange Committee (SEC) seems to have been complicit with Madoff due to their ignorant and inept investigations. Weisenthal (2009) suggested that “There are so many reasons to be blown away by the SEC’s incompetence and failure to catch Madoff. It has been said that all the agency had to do was make one phone call or send one email to one of the banks where Madoff supposedly traded to confirm that none of the money was there.” The SEC weakness suggests that this organization can almost protect these types of scams from public scrutiny.
White collar crime is still not treated with same approach as other, more traditional street crimes. Moyer (2009) made this point clear in her article; “Such long sentences are rare for white-collar defendants, who usually go to prison for things like fraud, money laundering and other non-violent financial crimes. They are more typical for violent offenders like Theodore Kaczynski, the Unibomber, who will sit in a supermax prison in Colorado until he dies, and Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibal who got 957 years for killing 17 people. He was killed in prison by a fellow inmate.”
Instances like Madoff’s case are rarely discovered while murders and street crimes occur every minute of the day as investigative forces concentrate huge efforts on only these types of crime. It appears that people fear more their own physical and personal safety to that of financial safety. This is perhaps why so many white collar criminals are allowed to freely scam others. Money is not treated as sacredly as those in the financial industry would like to believe. This may also suggest why gullible investors without the foresight to investigate their investments were so willing to hand over their life’s fortune without blinking.
Impacts of Cultural Shift
The current economic downturn that the United States has experienced in the last 5 years has definitely made those in the financial industry more illuminated in the spotlight. There are many questions towards the stability of our economic systems and people are acting more conservative towards crime in general. Tolerance is low this day for anyone stepping out of line regardless of the crime. Forgiveness is hard to come by in the 21st century as vengeance is held as virtue in many circles. Crime is celebrated and has become a profitable industry for those who build prisons and jails which may have some sort of resonance with new public attitudes towards white collar crime.
The difference between formal norms and cultural norms towards crime is very slight if any. Ultimately it is up to the individual to place his or her own trust in their own abilities and judgment. Information and opinions are in great supply in this new age of fast communication and relative understanding of crime and punishment are needed to demonstrate society’s ability to make reasonable decisions. Madoff’s story reminds us that we are all capable of being fooled and tricked into a certain belief system that may or not may hold any truth or benefit. Human behavior will most likely never be fully and adequately explained to our satisfaction but that should not persuade us to ignore these impulses either.
The Associate Press (2011). Madoff: Government is a Ponzi Scheme. Daily Finance, 28 Feb 2011. Retrieved from http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/02/28/madoff-government-is- a-ponzi-scheme/
Dodds, A. (2009) . After Madoff, White Collar Time to Match White Collar Crime. Minyanville, 30 June 2009 . Retrieved from http://www.minyanville.com/businessmarkets/articles/WHITE-madoff-ponzi-collar- sentence-Chin/6/30/2009/id/23344?refresh=1
Kramer, R. (2012). Are white collar criminals the true villians? Global Post, 9 Nov 2012. Retrieved from http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/business/companies/121109/white-collar- crime-jail-time-bernie-madoff-dreier
Moyer. L. (2009). It Could Have Been Worse For Madoff. Forbes, 29 June 2009. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/2009/06/24/bernie-madoff-prison-sentence-business- beltway-madoff.html
Wisenthal, J. (2009). Amazing: The SEC had Proof that Madoff Was A Fraud. Business Insider, 2 Nov 2009. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/amazing-the-sec-had-the- proof-that-madoff-was-a-fraud-2009-11
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