In general, it’s wise and considerate to not celebrate another human being’s death. Even if you despise that person on so many levels, we should make an effort to not take too much satisfaction in someone else’s passing. It’s just basic human decency.
However, there are some exceptions and I think most would agree the death Bernie Madoff qualifies.
There aren’t a whole lot of people in this world who have managed to make themselves so universally hated. Somehow, Madoff found a way. Hatred of him and his crimes has transcended politics, ideology, race, religion, and geography. That’s a rare kind of hatred, but one Madoff rightly earned.
After his huge, decades-long Ponzi scheme was exposed, he became the face of evil and greed. The man stole from everyone. From Hollywood elites to holocaust survivors, he’d steal from anyone just to keep his scheme going.
For that reason, it’s entirely understandable that some are celebrating the recent news of his death. After decades of bilking people out of their money and living the life of immense wealth, Madoff died alone in prison with no friends, family, or loved ones to mourn him. It may very well be the most justice we can expect for a crime of this magnitude.
Bernard Madoff, the infamous architect of an epic securities swindle that burned thousands of investors, outfoxed regulators and earned him a 150-year prison term, died behind bars early Wednesday. He was 82.
Madoff’s death at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, was confirmed by his lawyer and the Bureau of Prisons.
For his many victims, I’m sure Madoff’s death is cold comfort, at best. I certainly have my opinions of the man. I’d rather not share them, if only to avoid the ire of the FCC. Instead, I want to offer some perspective on the death of this fraudster and the lessons from it that we should heed.
Most people already know the basics of Madoff’s scheme. It was, by and large, a massive Ponzi scheme. It’s certainly not a new scam. It’s been around for decades. Madoff’s was just the biggest. How he went about sustaining it for so many years has been covered by many people far smarter than me.
However, the size and specifics of the scheme matter. It was always going to fall apart, as all Ponzi schemes do. It’s like gravity. There’s only so much money you can steal to give to previous investors. Eventually, you just run out of people and money. The math always works against you.
The fact that so many Ponzi schemes still occur, despite all these forces working against them, is something worth noting. The death of Bernie Madoff doesn’t mean these types of schemes will go away. There will always be some ruthless, amoral con-man out there who manages to scam people out of money through trickery, deceit, and fraud. The death of one famous fraudster isn’t going to discourage the fraud.
Another perspective that we shouldn’t forget is how Madoff’s scheme could’ve, and probably should’ve, been exposed years ago before it got this big. It’s well-documented that Harry Markopolos, a financial analyst from Boston, figured out the scheme as early as 2000 and tried multiple times to expose it. Unfortunately, the right people didn’t listen and the system didn’t work as it should’ve.
That’s another thing that tends to happen a lot with these schemes. There are often people who figure it out long before it makes the news or alerts the authorities. Sometimes, it hastens the collapse of the scheme, but skilled con-men find a way to get around it. That only ensures more people get hurt in the long run.
With Madoff’s death, it leads me to wonder just how many other schemes like his are out there, unexposed and operating under the guise of legitimacy. We may not think they’re scams. They may go out of their way to assure us that they’re nothing like Madoff. We should still be vigilant.
There are some proactive steps you can take. There are signs you can look for and government agencies you can call. Madoff was a skilled con-man, but even he couldn’t hide every aspect of his lies. Even the most determined fraudsters can only do so much to subvert the basic math of finance.
There’s also one other perspective I think is worth highlighting and it might be the most revealing of it all. Of all the distressing details surrounding the Madoff saga, the one that stands out most to me is how Madoff inevitably gave up on it.
When he was exposed, it wasn’t because someone at the FBI or SEC caught him lying. It wasn’t because he messed up and a regulator caught him in the act. Madoff went down because he willingly gave up. He turned himself over when he realized he just couldn’t keep the scheme going anymore.
It wasn’t a matter of law enforcement catching the criminal. It was a matter of the criminal just giving up because fighting it just wasn’t worth the effort anymore. Take a moment to think about that and the implications.
We, as a law-biding society, didn’t catch Bernie Madoff. He just gave up. That says a lot more about the system in place than it does about our collective hatred of con-men like him. It also raises the question of what would happen if someone even more ruthless and amoral found themselves in a similar position.
How much further could they take the scheme?
How many more victims could they exploit?
These are distressing questions and the answers should give us pause. A man as infamous and cunning as Bernie Madoff could only succeed in a system with enough flaws for him to exploit. Who’s to say there isn’t someone worse operating a similar fraud right now?
This infamous criminal is now dead and he will be rightly vilified for his crimes for years to come. However, let’s not let his death or our shared hatred of him give the false impression that crimes like his won’t happen. They certainly will. It’s just a matter of catching them before they hurt too many people.
There are many people like Bernie Madoff who are still alive and still operating their various frauds. We can’t stop all of them. At the very least, we can make sure they never succeed as long or as much as he did.