So, yesterday saw Bernie Madoff plead guilty for his more than $60 billion fraud scheme. I didn’t see any of the footage, but Mrs. Blue tells me that it didn’t seem like ole Bernie thought he would enter his plea and go directly to jail. I guess he figured he’d get some time to settle up affairs, screw his wife and/or mistress one more time, and perhaps commit suicide or flee the country.
Judge decided that a 70-year-old rich guy was a potential flight risk and revoked bail, sending him directly to jail. Good call, because let’s face it, if a guy named Leroy Jenkins had bilked a bunch of old ladies out of just $60,000 in money (much less $60 billion), he’d go straight to jail out of concern he might flee.
I haven’t yet seen anyone claim that Madoff’s treatment in this way was unfair, but I’m sure that somewhere out there is a commenter at a newspaper Web site or at some blog who has done that or will at some point. I’m sure there will be someone who in print or in conversation will say, “He’s an old guy who fucked up. Why throw the book at him like that?”
On the lesser end of the scale, I’ve have seen one person argue that he’s probably a victim of abuse as a child, and abused kids often grow up to be abusers, and he simply abused people’s money instead of their bodies. (Honestly, someone said that, as if we should blame some previous generation for Madoff’s personal misbehavior.) I’ve seen a person who blamed poor regulation, and actually claimed that Madoff wasn’t to blame for this gigantic Ponzi scheme, but rather the inept regulators—who by definition always will be incompetent because if they had any real skills they’d be in the private realm where they could make lots more money instead of being in civil service. (Yes, that argument really was put forth.)
So, you can see why I’m waiting for someone to say, “It was only a white collar crime. Why so harsh on him?”
Because even in this troubled economic climate, where our nation and perhaps our world hovers at the edge of a financial abyss, people still glorify the folks at the top. Even after letting them shit on us from up high for so long, we still want to be them. We envy them. We revere them.
And that’s why rich people who swindle us don’t earn our ire in the same way that a “Leroy Jenkins” at the street level would. They don’t get punishments that truly equal the scope and depth of their crimes. If you’re simply a thief or a hustler, you’re scum. But if you’re white collar, you just let yourself go a little too far and really, no one gets hurt in the long run because everything will correct itself. Deal drugs and you’re killing people and should be treated accordingly. Run off with their investments, thereby driving some to kill themselves and some to die early from stress or lack of money to take care of themselves (while also ruining the lives of their families), and somehow you’re not a killer or a destroyer. You’re simply a little too greedy.
You even get to have neat little terms attached to what you did, like “Ponzi scheme.”
Instead of just saying you were an evil, selfish prick of a crook who ruined lives on a scale that no mere street-level hustler could ever hope to match.