Friday, January 23, 2009

PUNISHING BERNARD MADOFF

DEATH IS NOT ENOUGH

By : Mr. Francis G. Raeder, Ph.D., Policy Director, The Retribution Association of America, Inc.

Bernard Madoff stole $50 billion. That is correct: $50 billion. He plundered innocent investors all over the world, from elementary school pension funds to charities to Fortune 500 retirement accounts, leaving bankruptcy, desperation and broken lives in his wake. Although he has not yet faced trial for his crimes, he is the worst sort of criminal: A defrauder. Through deceit, he ruined countless lives. He has caused incalculable pain, uncertainty and suffering to millions. He must be punished. But he has only one life to give. There must be some way to make him pay more for his fraud.

Americans depend on the stock market for their financial security. Without orderly markets, they would not be able to finance their retirements, their educations or even their monthly expenses. In America, we believe in financial independence; we reject governmental assistance. We make our own money. We depend on our own investments to sustain our financial lives. When market swindlers filch our money, they rob not just our savings, but also our independence. They take away our trust and betray their loyalties. Thieves are bad because they disrespect property. But Judas burned in hell because he betrayed a solemn relationship. In America, investors had a solemn relationship with Bernard Madoff. Like Judas, he betrayed that relationship for personal gain. And like Judas, we demand blood for his treachery.

Law embodies our beliefs as a society. When we punish a criminal, we attempt to tailor his suffering to the blameworthiness of his conduct. To that extent, we express our condemnation for his conduct. We give petty thieves 1 year in prison, but we give car thieves 6 years. Why? We agree that all stealing is bad, but it is worse to steal something worth more money. Amounts matter. We give rapists 15 years in prison, but we electrocute murderers. Why? Because it is worse to kill a person than merely to sexually defile one. The law reflects our moral judgments. If we punish something more severely, it means we hate the conduct more. We want greater revenge.

Bernard Madoff did not commit petty theft. He did not steal a car, either. Nor did he rape or kill. He did something far worse: He betrayed our trust, then stole $50 billion. That is an incomprehensible amount. That amount represents the lives, dreams and ambitions of millions of Americans. Stealing is bad, but stealing $50 billion stands in a class by itself. Madoff stole more than money. He stole lives, futures, hope and trust. He ruined fortunes and vaporized inheritances. He condemned old women to poverty and heirs to low-wage work. Most Americans would rather lose a cousin or even a sister than their savings. Madoff may not have killed a person, but he killed people’s savings. In our view, that is a far worse offense. Americans spend their whole lives working, making money and saving. Respectable sources tell them that saving is good. They live, work and save responsibly all their lives. Then Madoff pulls the rug out from under them. All their toils now mean nothing. He attacked the very fabric of American life. He has cast doubt on the responsible way Americans learn to live their lives. For that, he must suffer accordingly. This is no ordinary killer. This man assassinated the entire “American life program” in cold financial blood.

How can we proceed against this assassin? We have charged him with “securities fraud,” a crime that does not carry a death sentence. In fact, it does not even carry a life prison term. We can force him to repay all the money he stole, but he has already spent most of it. There is no way he can truly make amends to the millions of responsible Americans whose financial lives he killed. No “justice” can avenge his betrayal. No fine, penalty or fee can inflict the misery on him that he inflicted on America. Defrauded Americans deserve to revisit some suffering on Bernard Madoff. Even if the law allowed the federal government to put Madoff to death, he would face far too easy a road. He would merely be transported into a sterile chamber, injected with two intravenous tubes, then pumped full of toxic chemicals. He would slip peacefully into oblivion, leaving all his victims behind to live in financial hell. Put simply, in Bernard Madoff’s case, death is not enough.

We believe that Bernard Madoff must suffer more than any criminal has ever suffered in America. To accomplish that goal, we must suspend the Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const. Amd. 8. We must allow the public to participate in Bernard Madoff’s punishment, because he injured the public. History provides an ample guide in this regard. Until the 18th Century, French, German and Russian monarchs applied a penalty called “breaking on the wheel.” This method involves lashing the prisoner—naked, and in public—to a large wooden or iron wheel. An executioner then takes a heavy steel mallet and strategically smashes the prisoner’s bones, beginning with the ankles and feet. In order to prolong the procedure, the executioner can administer only one hit per hour, or one hit per day, leaving the prisoner to suffer with his injuries until the next encounter. All the while, the public can watch him writhe, scream, bleed and despair.

We believe it is time to revive this practice. America deserves a chance to make Bernard Madoff suffer for his indescribable crimes against the financial order. Individual investors are not going to get their money back, nor will Madoff’s death in a private chamber make them feel any better about their loss. Defrauded investors should have a chance to repay Madoff for his deceit. We should allow each investor a chance to smash one of Madoff’s bones. We should allow penniless widows to vent their despair on Madoff in the most personal way possible: With an iron mallet. Every investor who lost money with Madoff must file a petition to participate in the punishment ceremony, and every news network—especially the financial markets networks—must broadcast the ceremony for all to see. This is the only way we can assure Americans that the government cares about their money. And it is the only moral way we can show ourselves that we do not tolerate financial treachery that undermines responsible saving.

In his Inferno, Dante Alighieri reserved the lowest level in hell for traitors. We think he was right. Bernard Madoff is the worst of the worst. He deserves not only to die for his massive fraud, but also to suffer the most ignominious end humanly possible. It would be perverse to execute a worthless beggar for an inconsequential killing, yet allow this financial mass murderer to escape a horrible death for exterminating Americans’ money. We must send a message that it is worse to kill $50 billion in savings than it is to kill a homeless person. Under the law, a fraud artist like Madoff faces a comfortable prison term, yet any murderer faces capital punishment, no matter how unimportant the victim. Here, Madoff victimized America’s financial lifeblood. He deserves a penalty far worse than someone who merely killed a person without savings. If we do not send a clear message that savings plunder will not be tolerated, we undermine the very reasons why Americans live. We must not allow that to happen.

If you care about work, savings, fidelity, honest markets, responsibility and justice, tell your Congressman today: “Break Bernie Madoff on the wheel.” It is the only way to punish him for his atrocities.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kill the bastard. Kill anyone that has too much money. I hate you all. Give your money to the poor people. I hope Madoff is raped everyday in jail by the entire prison population.