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Mind

Crime & punishment & Madoff

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanDecember 22, 2008 11:10 AM

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Even Bernard Madoff Doesn't Deserve This:

Remember Jeffrey Skilling? Losses to Enron shareholders of more than $1 billion largely determined his 24-year-plus sentence. Or consider WorldCom's former chief, Bernard J. Ebbers. He got 25 years based principally on the $2.2 billion loss suffered by his company's shareholders. Sure, these men destroyed enormous shareholder value, just as the targets of today's criminal cases allegedly did. But it's hard to contend that they deserved prison terms longer than the average sentence for murder (22 years), kidnapping (14) and sexual abuse (eight)."

What do you think? My own "gut" is to say no, Madoff does deserve as much time as a murderer. A murderer can kill one person. Bernard Madoff has inclicted suffering upon thousands. Some elderly individuals who have lost their life savings will almost certainly have reduced life expectancy due to inferior care now that they can't afford home attendants, not to mention their quality of life. Multiply this sort of thing by thousands, and the extermination of cultural capital which is going to ensue because of the lack of trust, and it seems to me that some classes of white collar criminals do deserve as much jail time as violent offenders. And money is an imperfect, but correlated, proxy for the sort of damage these individuals inflict upon others through their actions. I'm not the only one thinking in such crassly utilitarian terms:

In some ways this does seem out of whack with violent crimes, but one could argue that these fraud cases actually require a great deal of pre-meditation and ultimately cause untold suffering and literally destroy many lives. Some would also argue that economic offenders pose little future threat because they're generally stripped of powers that would permit continued criminal conduct, but it does not strip them of their ill-gotten wealth and the lives they lead before they were caught, supported by the crimes they committed. There are checks in our legal system to allow judges to use common sense to reduce radically long sentences produced by the guidelines. But I for one hope they don't in Madoff's case presuming he's found guilty.

There is simply no way that Bernard Madoff et. al. will be able to repay their debt to society. That's a fact.

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