Monday, June 29, 2009


I do think there's something showoffy about the 150-year sentence given to Bernie Madoff, and I think the length is a consequence of the social status of many of his victims, but unlike Taylor Marsh, I can't exactly say I find it outrageously long:

Talk about sentence overkill....

Madoff's lawyers referred to the verdict as "mob vengeance." ...

Good riddance to the schmuck, but the overkill sentence is nothing less than judicial smoke and mirrors....

Well, it's either one or the other -- overkill or smoke and mirrors. He'll spend the rest of his life in prison. He'd've spent the rest of his life in prison if he got 20 years without parole. So where's the overkill, except, well, rhetorically? The judge gets to say he threw the book at Madoff. That's all there is to this. There could be real vengeance in this sentence, but it would have to be a very, very different sentence, as I'll explain below.

Marsh has a point about the sentence, obviously, here:

It should come as cold comfort for people, because the system that allowed it to happen is still in place with no answers as to where the regulatory agencies were when Madoff ran amok.

As does Melissa McEwan:

It's just a little fucked up that the asshole who swindled rich people gets 150 years, but most of the assholes who swindled poor people haven't even lost their jobs. And that's to say nothing of the assholes staffed by the regulatory bodies whose enormous incompetence enabled Madoff's crimes, no less members of the administration under whose watch the economy collapsed.

And yet my thoughts keep going the other way.

I don't approve of the death penalty -- I don't think it's any kind of deterrent, as it's applied. But -- notwithstanding the fact that Madoff isn't the only person responsible for his Ponzi scheme -- if we're going to have a death penalty, why do we never impose it on white-collar felons? Aren't these precisely the kinds of people it actually might deter? We execute people for crimes of violence -- but the people walking around free who are committing the same kinds of crimes, or who will do so in the future, aren't deterred, because the choice to do that means they've already accepted violence as a part of life. Being killed at the end is not a huge shock to someone who's led a violent life.

But white-collar criminals are different. Executing a few of them would scare the bejesus out of the rest. They don't do that kind of harm, and they feel entitled not to have it done to them. What if they no longer had the luxury of that assumtion? It might concentrate the mind, no?

This is just a thought exercise, of course. A society that won't police the Madoffs of the world effectively, and that will barely punish swindlers of the non-posh at all, surely isn't going to treat white-collar crooks like "real" felons. And I guess I'd be squeamish about society doing so if it actually were happening.

I'm just saying I think it might be the only kind of death penalty that would actually work.

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