Thursday, December 03, 2009

Bernie Madoff

In The New Statesman I review Adam LeBor's book on Bernie Madoff.


  1. Hi Bryan,

    Yes I enjoyed this article.

    You write:

    Madoff was among the worst. "A financial criminal genius," LeBor calls him. I'm not sure about the genius bit, given that his greatest achievement, the mother of all Ponzis, was, in fact, plain stupid, a guaranteed loser. But "criminal" is indisputable and I'm not sure that "evil" should be left out of the equation.

    Sometimes its not genius, but stupidity and evil combined as you say. We can all spend the night dreaming up a pyramid scheme, if we care to waste our time so. You and I could have concocted such a scheme, but we would never have gone through with it, as most people could have and then would not have. The truly evil and cunning would have taken the time to get arms and a dictatorship

    That excerpt also sparked an association. I immediately thought that Madoff, if he were to read it and if he could blog, might through his ego take a PZ Myers stance, propping you up as his nemesis:

    I am deeply, horribly ashamed. On the principle that one's reputation is known by the quality of one's enemies…I have the pathetic Bryan Appleyard acting as if he is my nemesis. You know a post is worthless when it begins with "Please note that at the end of this post P.Z.Myers will still be a jerk and I still won't be," and then goes downhill from there.

    The company Myers' is keeping would be with Madoff, not with you. The two of them could be co-nemeses of yours. However, their traits do not round them out as ideal co-nemeses, one to act stupid and evil, the other a jerk. There's room for more.


  2. Cool. The Madoff story briefly brought into view a realization that will, inevitably, be once again clouded: The so-called "financial services" industry is a fraudulent enterprise for all but those in on the fraud.

    By the way, I'm American, so I don't know how widely the particulars of this story have been disseminated. If not so much, I strongly urge readers to google "Walter Noel". If you think Tiger Woods is entertaining...

  3. But surely Bryan, the point with Madoff was that he did not life by the market sword, for no market existed.
    But one thing I find utterly amasing, how on earth can someone put a sonking great book together quicker than a State prosecution.

  4. Yes, I agree, the 'market sword' bit is misleading. Maddoff was exposed by the crash but he would have been exposed anyway (as you note) because Ponzi schemes have to collapse. His story is fascinating but tells us no more about markets or capitalism more than the man who sold Brooklyn Bridge does. He was just a con man. The bitch that bore him was greed and that is always on heat.

  5. My god, he looks just like the canoe man there.

    Is this significant, do you think?

  6. As this image suggests, there is a blankness behind these conmen. There more you look for "Why?" the less there is to find. Nothing is there. They probably don't know themselves why they do it. A riddle wrapped in a phoney trading note in an invitation to an exclusive Palm Beach soiree.

    A great review but not sure about the stupid loser angle. Many people - advisors, industry professionals, etc - must have done very handsomely out of the fraud even if indirectly, through fees. It's more a case of a whole class or elite keeping a rotten wagon rolling because they all stand to lose if it fails.

    So to me this is still Wall Street 26 Joe Sixpack 0 (with the SEC standing in for one-legged goalie Wally Foot) in front of a capacity crowd - Sid and Doris Bonkerstein who discover after the match that someone has stolen their wallets.

  7. Brit, I thought for a moment it was a prison mug shot of Sepp Blatter; extradited to Ireland and charged with 'Underhandedness in failing to act even-handedly in respect of the Irish thus handicapping them in their quest to be handily placed for the 33rd World Cup place'

  8. "Why" is fairly simple. Look at the life he was living. His mistake was not dying before the whole thing collapsed.

    I doubt very much that Madoff would consider Bryan his nemesis. I doubt that he cares much what anyone writes about him at this point.

    The truly interesting story is not why. The real story is how did the SEC not catch him? Who are these people who were supposed to check him out and how did they miss the obvious signs even when they were told exactly what was going on?

  9. Do you suppose that many of Madhofs clients had the financial equivalent of a death wish. Assuming that they were intelligent or at least not stupid people who knelt at the alter of cash on a fairly regular basis, they respected money, subconsciously did they guess that being in bed with this plausible crook was courting disaster, a dance on the edge of the abyss, out on the surface perhaps in denial. It is said that the tortured can have an affinity with their torturers.
    Denial is an allergy which can affect all of us, clouding otherwise sound judgment, I had conversations with suppliers of Rolls Royce who carried on trading with RR even though they had irrefutable evidence that the end was nigh "they cannot go bust, it's Rolls Royce for God's sake."
    I do wonder if there but for the grace of Zog go we, a significant proportion of the population of the British Isles voted, in 1997, for a group of people who have spent the intervening years stealing from them. Many, when next year allowed the same opportunity, will do the same again.
    Have we become the leading actors in a rerun of The Night Porter.

  10. I doubt very much that Madoff would consider Bryan his nemesis. I doubt that he cares much what anyone writes about him at this point.

    Whether Madoff would care if Bryan would be his nemesis was not the point, was it. It was Myers who cared that Bryan would be his nemesis, which is the clearly point made.