Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bernie Madoff: Greatest Ponzi Scheme in U.S. History

The Issue Itself

Many people have heard of Bernie Madoff and the Ponzi scheme that he ran which was said to be the biggest in U.S. history.  But many people do not know how he started or what he did to actually be one of the prestige firms on Wall Street.  During his early years he attended the University of Alabama but one year later he transferred to Hofstra University which was much closer to his home in Queens, New York.  The next year, Madoff earned his bachelor's degree in political science from Hofstra.  Madoff studied law at Brooklyn Law School but quit later that year to start his own investment firm using $5000 to start it up which he saved from his prior job of a lifeguard and a side job installing sprinkler systems.  With the help of is father-in-law Madoff and his wife started Madoff Investment Securities, LLC.  Madoff was able to pull in big time clients like Stephen Spielberg and Kevin Bacon.  Madoff Investment Securities grew famous for its reliable annual returns of 10 percent or more and, by the 1980s, his firm handled up to 5 percent of the trading on the New York Stock Exchange. 

Madoff planned on giving out a few million dollar bonus checks two months earlier than scheduled and immediately his two sons questioned where all of the money came from.  He then admitted to them that a branch of his firm was actually an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Madoff's sons reported their father to federal authorities, and the next day Madoff was arrested and charged with securities fraud.  Madoff also reportedly told investigators that he lost $50 billion dollars of his investors’ money and pled guilty to 11 felony charges including securities fraud, investment adviser fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, false statements, perjury, false filings with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and theft from an employee benefit plan.  To this day the extent of his fraud is still being uncovered and prosecutors are saying that $170 billion moved through the principal Madoff account over decades, and that before his arrest the firm's statements showed a total of $65 billion in accounts.  On June 29, 2009 Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison which was the maximum sentence.


Individualism basically is the individual aspect of the person meaning that the focus is on those individuals’ beliefs and goals rather than a group or team.  They promote the individuals desires and self-interest as opposed to being group oriented and really focusing on that individual.  From the individualists point of view in this particular case Bernie Madoff was essentially right in what he was doing because he was doing what he had to maximize his profit and to help the business become a success.  However this can also be argued because in Individualism, especially Friedman's definition be argued because in Individualism, especially Friedman's definition of it, it states that the only obligation that the business person has is to maximize profit for the owner or the stockholders.  So clearly Madoff was not maximizing profit for his stockholders in fact he was deliberately taking their money and actually losing them a lot more than they thought.  Going back to just himself he was able to accomplish a lot for the company even if it was illegal.  He was able to make many billions of dollars not only for himself but his entire family who worked for him as well.  Individualism also states that your top priority should be to maximize your own profit and to make sure that you are put above all else.  So if you look at it in that sense Madoff was just trying to look after himself and provide himself with a better life which is technically right in the eyes of an individualist.  In the end, he did what he thought would benefit him the most and for that he is correct.


Utilitarianism basically states that by doing what is morally right will benefit the most amount of people and generate the greatest amount of happiness.  So in other words doing what is right should be placed above all else.  I think it is safe to say that Bernie Madoff stood for everything that utilitarianism is against.  For example, by running his massive Ponzi scheme he was not thinking about how the people he was taking money from were feeling he just wanted it all for himself no matter how many people he had to step on to get it.  As you can see Madoff was not interested in doing the right thing at all and because of this he let a lot of people down and caused a lot of unhappiness because of it.  If he were to do the right thing he would not be in jail right now and even if he couldn't make the amount he was making illegally he would still be making a good amount and it would all be clean instead of taken unwillingly from others. 


Kantianism says that all actions are performed with some type of overlying principle.  Going off of this Kant himself believed that everyone is a fundamentally rational being.  He went on to say that any action that is not rational cannot in any way be a good act no matter what that act may be.  The formula of humanity says that a rational person should never be treated as a means but as an end.  This principle can be applied to this particular case by simply asking the question of was what Madoff did rational?  This could easily be argued but personally I feel that it was not rational at all.  This is because even when he was running the Ponzi scheme and everything was going great he must have known eventually someone would catch on and find out everything he was doing.  He was not making rational decisions and because of it he paid price.  This case proves Kant's point because he stated that any act that is not rational cannot be a good act in any way.  This applies perfectly to this case because although Madoff might have thought that he could outsmart everyone it was only a matter of time before he was caught.

Virtue Theory

The four main virtue theories that are looked at heavily are courage, honesty, temperance and justice.  Looking at these in the perspective of Bernie Madoff I would say that he has some of these traits.  For instance, although what he did was very wrong he did have courage to actually go through with it and make it happen.  He also has temperance because he knew the whole time what could happen or what could go wrong so he was ready at all times for the worst.  He knew what as at stake and what he could lose but he still kept pursuing his business.  However, there are many things that he can improve on starting with honesty.  He lied to countless people’s faces and deliberately stole money right from underneath them.  This whole situation could have been avoided if he simply did this the right and honest way the first time around.  Another thing he can improve on is justice.  He did not do what was morally right once throughout this entire process and because of it, it all caught up to him which is why he is in jail for the rest of his life now. 

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