Who here has ever had to worry about paying bills? I have. What sort of feeling is that?
Imagine we could take that feeling and put it into a pill. We then forced people to take that pill. The difference is that, with our special pill, the pain would never go away. Until the person died, he'd feel that misery of wondering, "Will I be able to afford my electric bill? Will I be able to eat this month? Will I be able to pay my medical bills?"
If we gave that pill to thousands of people, how many years in prison would we deserve?
According to a Washington Post columnist, not many:
elite are dropping as fast as the financial markets they work in. As
investors sort through the trail of financial wreckage left by Bernard L. Madoff,
arrested for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme that may be the largest ever,
federal prosecutors are preparing to charge him formally with crimes
that could land him in prison for the rest of his life. In June,
federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, N.Y., charged former Bear Stearns
hedge-fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin with lying to
investors about their funds' true value and prospects. And in
September, the FBI revealed that it is investigating the people who ran Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG, all of which were casualties of this year's market meltdown.
Given today's economic climate, it's hard to feel any pity for these
guys. Their reprehensible conduct has crippled the nation's financial
system and will cost investors and taxpayers billions. But if you
believe that the punishment should fit the crime, a bit of sympathy may
be what they deserve. Really.
We punish criminals for the psychological damage they do to victims. It's possible to rape someone without physically harming him or her; it's the damage to their psyche that we punish. Some people never get over that stuff. When you ruin a life, you do serious time. And that's how it should be.
How many lives has Madoff ruined? And we're not just talking about psyches, here, either.
If you're old and can't work, how will you pay your medical bills? If you've saved enough money, you'd be able to afford drugs and healthy food that will extend your life by years. If you lost your money, you'd die years sooner.
If I went around murdering old people, how many years in prison should I face? Just a few? After all, they're almost dead, anyway. Right?
Few would agree. Yet can anyone rationally argue that Madoff has not shaved years off of numerous lives? No.
So the issue isn't whether Madoff is a killer. He is. So he should be punished as we'd punish any mass murderer. Moreover, we need to deter others from killing old people.
Later in the column the author shows an astounding ignorance of criminals. He writes:
For example, a relatively short prison term --
years, not decades -- can be enough to deter prospective financial
I have a conscience. You probably do, too. If we didn't, most of us would gladly defraud people out of millions - not billions - of dollars for five years in federal prison. For a billion dollars, I would gladly spend 5 years in federal prison. I may even agree to ten. Federal prisons are full of drug dealers and fraudsters. Gang rapes are usually the stuff of state prison. I'd come out older, but I'd never work another day. Plus, I could probably read a book each day.
If you put the choice to most people, many would take a guarantee of prison if it meant they could make millions of dollars. With criminals, there is no guarantee they will get caught. Most get away with it.
So why is it rational to assume that someone who isn't guaranteed prison would not cheat people out of millions? It's not. Moreover, once you realize that Wall Street is loaded with the vilest people you'll ever meet, lengthy prison sentences are the only answer.
If it were up to me, every case against Wall Street crooks would be filed in state court. You couldn't pay me any amount of money to do prison time in New York state prison. Imagine, then, the deterrence state prison would have on Wall Streeters.