(((Bernie Madoff))) may not have been everyone’s favorite business executive. One wry joke went that he offered to invest your funds and Madoff with them. A Black-Pilled cynic may also remember the rejoinder that you can never fool an honest man. As Madoff has left the building, his ethical paradigm hasn’t vanished. While his passing isn’t exactly the biggest loss imaginable, his escapades are perhaps worth a brief reflection. Perhaps a person’s opinion of Bernie Madoff’s investment strategies is a window on their opinion of Consumerist Amerika.
To understand how Ponzi-Schemer Madoff operated, it perhaps helps to study The Parable of Colt-45. Advertisers get very creative at times. Billy Dee Williams had us all convinced Colt-45 worked every time. It helped the illusion float that nobody wanted to be that guy to come forward and tell the world that he actually tried Colt-45; and that in his unique case it didn’t help much. Or, perhaps more realistically, nobody ever felt inclined to rigorously verify the logical proposition X;
Where X reads “I ply the object of my amorous desires with Colt-45 —> guaranteed sexual access.”
The least harm case for this advertising campaign is to assume anyone who actively seeks out Colt-45 after laughing at Billy Dee’s PUA shtick would have probably saved a buck or two and ridden Night Train instead. If laughter gets the consumer to substitute out of Brand XXX Tonsil Polish and into Colt-45 instead, then all is fair in love and economic warfare. A lot of what you hear in any advertisement is meant to be some form of Devil’s Humor or leftover Hipster Irony. Not everyone quite gets the joke. That could bring two ethical questions to mind.
1) what if this is a good thing? Money is a powerful tool. It might be wrong to leave too much of it in the hands of a mentally weak individual. Perhaps Old Billy Dee disarms a certain subset of idiots by emptying their wallets before they buy up too many fast cars and machine guns. So perhaps cheesy advertisements that separate morons from the contents of their wallets are a form of consumerist eugenics van.
You don’t give idiots financial means for the same reason you don’t give them bottles of liquor and the keys to your Tesla. Perhaps we apply The Spiderman Principle here. With great power comes great responsibility. Conversely, we don’t want the incapable to be even implicitly responsible. They could break a bunch of things they can’t eat or pay for.
2) what if this a malignantly bad thing? Billy Dee probably shouldn’t be telling The Lakota Sioux that Colt-45 works every time. Slick advertising can be a form of predation upon those with a low IQ and a high time preference. The extreme case of selling Fire Water to The Injuns could even approach a level of abusing the crippled children. This particular race of people lack the ability to properly digest and process alcoholic beverages.
The old, 70’s Colt-45 commercials are almost a play case. What happens when we do this sort of thing to somebody’s life savings? Steven Landsberg spares me the odious duty of arguing that Bernie was at worst morally neutral for playing the suckers.
The death of Bernie Madoff reminds me that I never understood why he was so vilified. He ran a Ponzi scheme. All of his investors knew it was a Ponzi scheme. They chose to get in, and gambled that they could time their exits just right. Some succeeded, some failed. So Madoff was the moral equivalent of a bookmaker (and not the kind of bookmaker who employs violence to enforce collections). He catered to a preference that some might call a vice. Where’s the problem?
It’s not an entirely perverse argument. Imagine having Deep Expletive Value’s stake in GameStop and playing it well as a timing game. Let’s say he never throws his trader’s edge away on some bizarre moral crusade. If he had chosen to drop out of the squeeze two weeks before the big boys colluded to shut it all down, then he would never have a financial requirement to show up for work for the rest of his life. He could have killed it with Tzar Bomba.
Maybe that’s what a few Armchair Babe Ruth’s thought they were going to do to Madoff’s hanging curveball. Anyone who knowingly entered into a deal with Madoff because they thought they would swindle the swindler deserve no sympathy or recompense. When they try that against an investment executive who literally helped found the NASDAQ, they probably have a thoroughly unearned positive self-opinion. Extreme self-esteem can be a very poor evolutionary strategy.
There are two logical reasons to condemn the iniquitous poltergeist of Bernie Madoff. We can start with basic deontological ethics. Do you like living in consumerist and crowdist Amerika? It’s an ethical Valley of the Shadow of Death. Unless you are the badest dude in the valley, you don’t win. Society becomes unlivable when everyone is just allowed to eat one another.
Another, less philosophical reason involves the bailout culture complicit with our current soft socialism. Nobody ever gets allowed to lose it all. Our cynical player who tried to swindle Bernie Madoff probably did so with the possibility of getting help from Big Brother in mind. It changes your risk calculus when you know there’s always a Nanny State Safety Net.
It also changes Madoff’s. If everyone is just going to get made whole again, then why not skim off the suckers. If it’s all just funny money, Madoff is just harmlessly harvesting surplus value. Can’t blame a well-educated Marxian for getting his Marx on. Patrisse Cullors’s mansions didn’t just build themselves.
Except that economy roughly parallels ecology and physics. The amount of available energy is limited. Madoff uses energy that he skims off his marks to fund his party life. The marks then whine to Mommy Gubbermint and get made whole. The government needs energy to feed the useless slugs. Where does this energy to produce said subsidence come from?
We’re told its magic. The Fed just quantitatively eases and inject liquidity into the system. Nobody really has to ever pay anything. Hocus Pocus. But no. That energy has to be extracted from somewhere. One fool’s surplus is another victim’s lunch money.
It’s from this reality-based viewpoint where Madoff really and truly looks like (((Madoff))). He set in motion a malignant chain reaction.
1) He harvested money off of a bunch of suckers to fund his Ponzi scheme.
2) The suckers all got made whole by Mommy Gubbermint.
Well, here’s number three. All that free money got pumped into circulation without reference to any store of value. Therefore, more dollars are chasing fewer goods. Each individual dollar is worth a little less. If the Joe Average gets a 2% raise every year, then he doesn’t really get a raise. It’s probably more like a small cut. The cuts add up, and eventually (((Madoff))) does ok, his marks do ok, and two out of three isn’t so bad.
At least that’s what Consumerist Ethics now tell us. Landsberg sums it up like a true Economist of our morally dead era. “In other words: It’s not a lie if nobody believes it.” Perhaps that’s what they’ll be telling our kids in Civics Class when someone asks about why they should believe in The Amerikan Dream.