Madoff: Bail for Mega-Thief – Jail for the Rest of Us

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[National: Commentary]

The United States is a nation that would sear the conscience of a million Ebenezer Scrooges. When Charles Dickens wrote his books on poverty in England - including his famous, "A Christmas Carol," his purpose was to critique, in the popular forums of the day, the British system of class rule, which afforded no safety net to the poor no matter how hard they worked, or were willing to work. (Dickens also needed the money, not being himself part of the aristocracy.)

Dickens found the Christmas holiday season to be an effective motif for laying bare the gross immorality of a social order in which a pampered few bought security for themselves in exchange for institutionalized misery for the masses of their fellow human beings.

A century and a half later, the Ebenezer Scrooges of America have fashioned for themselves a system so predatory, it would overwhelm Dickens' power to encapsulate in a small story. Bernard Madoff, the fifty billion-dollar Ponzi schemer, is Scrooge unbounded, the personification of a world-devouring capitalism that, having driven a significant portion of the planet's inhabitants to eke out a living from less than a dollar a day, has turned on its own in an orgy of financial cannibalism.

"Madoff is allowed to travel around New York, Connecticut and Long Island, like a free man."

Bernard Madoff's confidence game was, in reality, not so different than business-as-usual in this last stage of capitalism, in which the ruling financial classes produce nothing worthwhile yet reward each other through pyramid schemes based on notional and derivative values that are ultimately unsustainable - as the world is learning, to its horror. Madoff's larceny is larger than the gross domestic products of all but 63 nations in the world. It is as if he stole the entire yearly economy of Croatia, Sudan, or Ecuador, or the combined economies of Kenya and Lebanon, or three times the gross domestic product of Tanzania. Think of it.

Bernard Madoff's 50 billion dollar theft is the equivalent of three times the value of every good and service provided by every man, woman and child in the East African nation of Tanzania. In the United States, Madoff's looted treasure would run the city of New York for about 10 months of the year.

Perhaps a better measure of Madoff's stolen wealth is to compare it to the New York State prisons budget. At $2.4 billion per year, Madoff's loot could run the prison system for 21 years - hopefully, with him in it. But Mr. Madoff still lives in his penthouse apartment, on Park Avenue. Even his two sons would not co-sign for his bail, but the judge settled for his wife's and brother's signatures on Madoff's $10 million dollar bond. Madoff is allowed to travel around New York, Connecticut and Long Island, like a free man, until his nightly curfew at 7:PM. Meanwhile, just a couple of miles away, 130,000 inmates per year languish at the ten New York City jails on Rikers Island.

Ninety-two percent of them are Black or Hispanic, and fully one-quarter are locked up because they can't afford $500 or less in bail money. Not a single one has stolen the equivalent of the gross domestic product of a medium-sized country. But this is the land of Scrooge, where justice is a fiction. For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at


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