Top of the News: I was never a personal finance columnist because there are really only two personal finance stories to tell: 1) Don’t be greedy and 2) Don’t be stupid. Investors with Bernie Madoff were both, and his long prison term won’t get their money back.
Really, would you give your life savings to a guy whose last name is pronounced “made off”?
The more interesting stories fall into two categories. First: Who made out? The money went somewhere, and even the most sybaritic con man could not burn through at least $13 billion on his own, even if he super-sized every order at Per Se. Only $1.2 billion has been recovered.
As a Ponzi scheme, it paid out “earnings” to somebody. Or was it like the AIG scheme, with self-dealing among big financial outfits. This is a story I haven’t seen.
The second Madoff issue concerns his ability to run the Ponzi scheme for years, despite several red flags. Yet the Bush, and perhaps Clinton, Securities and Exchange Commissions were asleep. And deliberately so — these were the years of attending the Church of the Free Market. “It will police itself,” we were told.
The inattention was particularly inexcusable after the massive frauds in the early 2000s. Remember Enron? Sarbanes-Oxley was supposed to be the Vic Mackey of securities police. It turned out to be “The Commish” — on the take, hopelessly compromised by both a political ideology hostile to regulation, a bubble-making Fed and the deep compromises our elites have made with financial criminality.
Meanwhile, the engineers of the far more costly financial crash that revealed Bernie Madoff are free, rich and in many cases still running their companies. It’s like a caper movie where all the George Clooney types get away, leaving Madoff (played by Danny DeVito or Joe Pesci) to take the fall.
Meanwhile, as a direct result of these policies and huge losses, more Americans will have to forgo retirement — and what jobs they can get will pay nothing like they had earned in another America, offer fewer benefits and no pensions. No wonder Americans would rather immerse themselves in the trivialities of the passing of an eccentric song-and-dance man than confront the huge and tragic challenges facing us.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Summer hiking time.
What about that big mountain
Of toxic assets?
Check out the winner of last week’s Econ Haiku contest!