Day 190: Reflections on the Madoff Tragedy

I just watched, “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street,” a documentary on Netflix. Many times I had heard the basics of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which robbed innocent people of billions of dollars for decades. It was nice to learn the details of the what happened. I found the documentary series fascinating and well-made, though it was quite long and heavy, at over four hours. I binged it this afternoon. The tragedy was quite sad, but I appreciated* learning about what happened. I am reminded of movies like “The Big Short,” which also exploring the greed and corruption that occurred in the years before the Financial Crisis.

In no particular order, here are some thoughts I had from watching the documentary:

  • The crueler and more inconsiderate someone can be, the more it is important to be loving, to transcend the swamp of human ugliness and choose love anyway. Just because someone is a nasty jerk does not invalidate being good to others. That’s what being unconditional is about.
  • It’s far too easy to refer to victims and villain. I have read books referring to them as two sides of the same coin. “As a Man Thinketh” says

It has been usual for men to think and to say, “Many men are slaves because one is an oppressor; let us hate the oppressor.” Now, however, there is amongst an increasing few a tendency to reverse this judgment, and to say, “One man is an oppressor because many are slaves; let us despise the slaves.”  The truth is that oppressor and slave are co-operators in ignorance, and, while seeming to afflict each other, are in reality afflicting themselves.

As a Man Thinketh, as quoted here
  • This documentary acknowledges that Madoff was in a sense a scapegoat for the Financial Crisis. While almost no one else was punished, he and his cronies went to jail. His sons both died, his wife was left destitute. Yet he lived in an era, inside a context where his corruption thrived. There were other forces who aided him. The blind leading the blind.
  • People can blindly put their trust in other people just hoping that those other people will do right by them, take care of them (and of course tell the truth rather than lying for decades!) People are shocked and bewildered when someone comes along who doesn’t follow the usual roles of social consideration, who is exceptionally good at lying, who uses it as primary strong-suit to get by in life.
  • I like to think that I would have avoided such an outcome of being swindled like Madoff’s victims, but that’s easy for me to say as someone who didn’t go through it.
  • It makes me grateful to invest in Vanguard funds. I was attracted to Vanguard because it is a company I feel I can trust. I am sure on some level the need for trust was influenced by experiencing the Financial Crisis.
  • It’s interesting how those two guys from the other company could see right through Madoff, while just about everyone else had drunk the Madoff Kool aid. Even the SEC was repeatedly won over by Madoff. Mass delusion in a sense, easy to blame this Madoff guy, but it takes two to tango. People are participants in a vibrational dance, there can be no “villain” without a “victim.” It took outsiders to see that the Empower wore no clothes.
  • Another thing that extended Madoff’s corrupt game was his reputation. People thought of him as upstanding, as a resource in the community. His reputation overrode the questions, overrode the suspicions, the calls of alarm from a few voices. It’s a tough situation, the mystique created by a charismatic, seemingly upright and highly-influential businessman.
  • Liars do not make losers of us all. They do not make honesty look bad. Inevitably, the deceitful house of cards crumbles, as it did for Madoff.

*To me, this subject for a blog post is a bit out of character, since for me, the Madoff story is quite dark and tragic, and I tend to trend positive on this blog about happiness! However, I do find the study of human behavior quite fascinating, especially as relates to money. Also, as I said, I thought the movie was genuinely well-made and had redeeming value.

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