Sunday, March 15, 2009

Appropriate Punishment for Madoff

In today's New York Times there's a fascinating article by Ralph Blumenthal entitled, If Bernie met Dante... Basically, the idea is that Madoff got what was coming to him. It's all right there in Dante.
Dante was consumed by the sadness and mystery of sin — and what it did to the sinner:In Dante’s frightful underworld, sinners face a descending funnel of worsening torments keyed to their sins. The lustful are blown about in a whirlwind; the violent boil in a river of blood. But betrayers, alone at the bottom, are savaged by the one called emperor of the realm of grief, in person.

“You’re buried in ice, because you’ve buried yourself in ice,” Mr. Pinsky, the nation’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2000 and a Dante scholar, said in an interview on Thursday.

Poetic justice, indeed. It is fitting, Mr. Pinsky says. Betrayal destroys the trust that binds humanity, and with it, the betrayer himself.

It certainly is a fair description of Madoff's crimes to call them "betrayal." That's what separates honest investment brokers from their look-alikes among the con-men. Carried to its conclusion this line of logical reasoning has some betrayers punished more than murderers.
Exactly, Mr. Pinsky says. To Dante, sin is an absence of energy and moral force — freezing cold and darkness — and betrayal is an ultimate shutting down, a failure to exist.

“Even murderers may be feeling something in other ways,” he says.

Which could explain why the 70-year-old Mr. Madoff faces a sentence harsher than that given some killers. (He offered a brief apology in federal court in Manhattan without shedding much light on where the money went, how he stole it, and who may have helped him.)

I have a problem with that logical thinking. To me, punishing a con-man, regardless of how prolific, more than many murderers is to create a travesty of the entire system. I go even further and say the no white collar criminal belongs in jail. There are better ways to punish them. Fines and restitution to the point of penury followed by strict government supervision to avoid recidivism is the answer. Even Dante might find that appealing: Madoff made people broke by taking their money, now the government does exactly the same thing to him.

There's another line in Dante, which is one of my favorites. It comes in a much higher circle of hell than those reserved for either the betrayers or the violent.

E quella a me: "Nessun maggior dolore
che ricordarsi del tempo felice
ne la miseria; e ciò sa 'l tuo dottore.

This is from Inferno V, lines 121 - 123. It's the story of Francesca and Paolo, ill-fated lovers who are being punished for lust when Dante meets them. Francesca's famous speech begins with the idea, "There is no greater pain than to remember happy times while suffering." She goes on to recount a story of such deep sadness that listening to it, Dante faints with pity.

I would say Mr. Madoff could sing such a sad song from a two-bedroom apartment on Long Island, his assets completely seized, and the government spared the expense of incarcerating him for the rest of his life.

What's your opinion? Does it serve any purpose to lock up a man like this? Is the $800M that's left going to be used to maintain the family in the lifestyle to which they've grown accustomed? Would that be fair?

Please leave a comment.


  1. At least two of his victims committed suicide.

    Now you believe in personal responsibility?

  2. I find the Madoff case interesting in a couple of ways. First, his 'victims' were mostly Jews, as is he. 'How could he swindle our own?' is a statement I found on a blog run by a Jewess several months back. That statement bears an investigation of its own, but I do not want to go there.

    A murderer has one direct victim and several 'collateral' ones- family, friends and associates. Mr. Madoff has thousands, perhaps millions when the charitable trusts are counted.

    Seems to me the pending sentence is justified in light of the number of victims involved.

  3. I would say Mr. Madoff could sing such a sad song from a two-bedroom apartment on Long Island, his assets completely seized

    perhaps he could. but let's see how much sadder he can make his song when sung against the backdrop of his prison cell, first.

    he ruined lives and coldbloodedly stole countless people's life savings, all the while knowing he was doing just that. do not make the mistake of thinking the sociopath harmless just because he's capable of seeming harmless. sociopaths do that, too, quite deliberately and knowingly.

  4. White collar criminals cause more harm to more people than traditional ones. Saying they should escape punishment is like saying a burglar should escape punishment if he gives most of the stuff he stole back. After all, the burglar didn't physically harm anyone...

    I don't think you answered my queston the last time this came up--Is the guy who fraudulently sent contaminated peanut butter to customers a white collar criminal?

  5. Obviously it was the fault of the investors for enabling Madoff to commit his crimes.

    They should be just as liable as he is.

    Right Mikeb?

  6. Obviously it was the fault of the investors for enabling Madoff to commit his crimes.

    They should be just as liable as he is.

    C'mon Mr. Third, get off of your milk and drink your horse!

    It is the lack of oversight and the unaccountability of the system that enabled Madoff to go on for so long, long after warninng beels and buzzers had gone off.

    I believe tht Madoff should be forced to to give up everything he owns to pay back his victims and then get a fuckin job in Burger King or as a greeter in WalMart and work until he drops....

    The aura of wealth and class protect him from this harsh reality.

  7. Hey,

    Maybe it is the easy availability of MONEY. After all if the money wasn't just laying around, Madoff wouldn't have been tempted to commit fraud.

    What we need to do is decrease the availability of Money......wait....Obama is doing that already.

    Never mind.

  8. Wow microdot, that went right over your head, didn't it?

  9. No, I enjoyed your infantile attempt at ironic hyperventilation immensely.
    I wish I could say that I anxiously anticipated your no doubt witty retort that will follow my posting, but unfortunately, I have run out of Swiffers.

  10. Yeah, he didn't get it at all.

    But nice recovery, Micro. We bought it! *wink*

  11. Sevesteen, You're right I hadn't responded to that question about the peanut butter guy. I was thinking about it and intended to write something on the issue.

    It's a good question which illustrates well the difficulty when claiming, as I do that white collar criminals shouldn't go to prison. Where do we draw the line? The famous line again.

    First of all, many people immediately think I'm talking about not punishing them, which is not true at all. I'm talking about punishing them more appropriately. Fines and restitution to the point of penury, plus government supervision is appropriate in many of these cases.

    Those who through negligence, willful or accidental, cause damage or cost lives, I'm not sure if I would call them white-collar. I honestly haven't looked up the definition. Bob'll tell you, and it's true, I'm basically not interested in anything except what makes sense to me.

    So with these tainted peanut butter guys and all the others who cause harm through greed and negligence, I think the most important thing would be to try to determine intent. If the guy's disregard for others is calculated and intentional in order to make money, that's worse than the guy who can prove he didn't know. It's a complicated gray area.

    White collar guys, on the other hand, are the money men, con artists who sell fraudulent investments, brokers who get too greedy to settle for the small commissions and start cheating, the insider trader guys, criminals and politicians who give and take bribes. This is what I'm talking about.

  12. Finally the truth comes out of MikeB.

    Bob'll tell you, and it's true, I'm basically not interested in anything except what makes sense to me?

    Billions of people in the world, 305 Millions something people in America.....and MikeB only is interested in what makes sense to him.

    That explains his position on so much. Evidence and statistics, basic human rights....those must not make sense to MikeB.

    Self defense use of firearms....Mike doesn't see the need for NO ONE SHOULD be able to use firearms for self defense.

    Wow, such arrogance. Never mind that civilization is built out of people working with others....only care about what you are interested in MIKEB. Such arrogance, but it explains so much.

  13. You loose again, Mike.

    Game, Set, Match.

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