Monday, June 29, 2009

Punishing Madoff

Does it serve the public good to put Bernard Madoff in prison for the rest of his life?

Madoff committed crimes for which he should be punished and for which he should pay reparations to his victims. Putting him in prison will accomplish the former, but not the latter.

There's gotta be a better way.

What if, instead of prison, Bernie got one of those leg things that doesn't let him go outside of a certain range, and has to live in a small apartment, and go to a 9-5 job, and turn all his assets over to be distributed to his victims? What if he works with the FBI to catch criminals like himself, like Frank Abagnale, Jr., did?

The courts have already ordered Madoff to forfeit $170 billion in assets. It would be great if the money could be distributed fairly (whatever that means) to his victims. I don't know if that means giving more to people who have less, or repaying victims based upon how much real money they lost. I'd be more than happy to help them figure this out. For a fee, of course.

I'm just saying, as I have said before: it makes sense to treat non-violent offenders differently than violent offenders. Restorative Justice emphasizes "repairing the harm caused by crime." Obviously, he will never be able to fully repair the financial harm he caused with his gigantic swindle. But he can repair some of it, and isn't some better than none?

And one more thing: people are talking about how Mr. Madoff "ruined the lives" of the people he swindled. I'm just wondering: did he really "ruin" their lives by taking their money? Yes, he cheated them and stole from them. Yes, he changed their lives, and probably made many of them face extremely difficult financial challenges.

But is this the same as "ruining" their lives? If experiencing the holocaust first hand did not ruin Elie Wiesel's life, can it really be said that being cheated out of his life savings ruined him? I'm sympathetic to Mr. Wiesel, and I agree with him that Mr. Madoff is "a thief, a scoundrel, a criminal"--but seriously. Elie Wiesel's life is not ruined, any more than anyone's life is ruined by a catastrophic financial investment.

It's only money. Mr. Wiesel, with all due respect, and all the others who lost money in the Great Madoff Ponzi Parade, still have their brains, their skills, their sources of income, their families, their lives. From the perspective of a person who struggles more than some, less than others, to make ends meet every month, especially in the last 10 months, I still say, "It's only money." They'll make more.

What Madoff ruined is people's expectations and hopes for the future. They hoped and expected that they'd have money for luxuries. They hoped and expected that they'd be able to take nice vacations, shop at Macy's, spoil their grandchildren, and generally live financially comfortable lives.

Expectations. If you depend on them too much, I'm sure it feels like you're life is ruined when they get shot to pieces.

That's a spiritual lesson right there.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Do you submit some of your writings to newspapers? This would be great in the op-ed section. You should.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, the whole Madoff circus is an indictment of our media. Madoff swindled predominantly rich, white Americans. If the target group had been poor, mostly minority Americans, would we ever have heard about it?

E. Peevie said...

El--You are too kind. I don't send anything to the papers. I used to write LTTE pretty frequently, but now that I blog, I don't do it anymore.

Anon--Interesting point, but I think I respectfully disagree. The law protects rich, white Americans as well as poor, minority Americans, and the story is news largely because of the amount of money involved.

Do you know of a situation involving a swindling of low-income Americans that went unreported? If so, this blog would like to right that wrong.

Kristen said...

Hear, hear!! I don't know why I go to church, when I could just read your blog:-) No, but seriously, I agree with you.

E. Peevie said...

Why thank you, K. Your good opinion means the world to me. That is, if you are the K. I think you are.