ATL Asks: Is It Okay to Kill Bernie Madoff?
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Amazingly, The American Lawyer is asking if it would be okay to apply the death penalty to Bernie Madoff.

The enormous fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff has some U.S. commentators wondering if the biggest white-collar criminals deserve the same punishments as murderers, even the death penalty. China, where financial fraudsters routinely are executed, is frequently cited approvingly.

Now, I’ve taken a look for these “frequent” citations, and the only mainstream media mention seems to be Boston Globe. I’m a huge fan of the (pardon the expression) blogosphere, being a member of that rare species, the full-time paid professional blogger. But this seems to be a perfect example of what the Web’s critics call the “echo chamber” — bloggers saying “others are saying…” while only quoting other bloggers who say “others are saying….” (Google “Madoff Death Penalty” to see for yourself.)


People are understandably angry at Madoff, even suggesting, according to the Globe, that he (and his entire family, who, as far as I can tell, have committed no crime) should be forced to live in poverty. Would this be justice? Sounds like revenge. And billions of people live in poverty — what’s their crime?

People are mad about Madoff, but they’re angry at the wrong person. There will always be evil people. The problem was not that Madoff exists, but that Madoff’s job exists. No unelected person should be allowed to control $50 billion in our nation’s resources without vigorous oversight. Hell, no elected person, either. No one person should ever have that much power in a democratic society. Ever.

But 99% of the people now furious at Madoff don’t think that way, because they drank the Free Market Capitalism Kool-Aid. Suggest that people like Madoff shouldn’t exist, and you’re a freedom-hating, Pacifica Radio-listening, Chomsky-reading, beret-wearing, green-tea-drinking, Whole-Foods-shopping, terrorist-loving, far-left liberal hippie.

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So nothing will change. Barack Obama, a committed Capitalist often mistaken for a Socialist, will slap a New-Deal band-aid on the problem. Then in 20 years, deregulation will return full force. And after that, another meltdown.

Will murdering Madoff fix that?

The death penalty is always wrong, not because some people don’t deserve to die, but because the government should not have the power to kill them. If you support executions, then ask yourself why your ideological allies are always nations like China which, in its eager transition from Communism (totalitarian Socialism) to Fascism (totalitarian Capitalism), executes its financial criminals.

China’s policies may decrease the number of financial miscreants. (Although I doubt the threat of death would have stopped Madoff, whose ego is so huge he may be exaggerating the extent of his own crimes just to seem important.) But they won’t change the fundamental corruption of the Chinese government.

Likewise, executions wouldn’t fix our problems either. Real change can only happen when Americans realize that Capitalism is not a religion, nor a panacaea, nor an integral component of democracy. It’s just an economic theory. One that’s fundamentally broken.

If you can’t see that, then you’re as bad as Madoff — if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. This is a genuine democracy, and the people get what they want — and deserve.

The question is, if you’re as responsible for this crime as Madoff, then do you deserve to die?

— Erik Even



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