Reactions to My Madoff Rant: No Apologies

by: Matthew Rafat

From Reuters:

Walker-Lightfoot, a lawyer in the SEC's Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, sent emails to a supervisor saying information provided by Madoff during her review didn't add up and suggesting a set of questions to ask his firm, the report said. One of Walker-Lightfoot's supervisors on the case was Eric Swanson...Swanson later married Madoff's niece.

My earlier article on Madoff's investors generated numerous comments on Seeking Alpha's website. Here are some quick responses to the comments:

1. Someone wrote, "If you were one of those who lost a lifetime's savings, your article would have a slightly different sentiment." Perhaps you are right; however, I diversify my investments and I buy investments available to the public. I do not and cannot invest in hedge funds or other non-transparent "clubs."

2. Two people have criticized my grammar and spelling--please point out specific mistakes. One person wrote that "investors like you and I could not get Madoff" should have been written as "investors like you and me..." I disagree, but I will check my Strunk and White manual later.

3. An anonymous person implied that I would feel differently had Madoff's investors been of a different religion, more specifically Islam. That's the kind of irrelevant, divergent thinking that Madoff's investors want to avoid if they want any chance of sympathy. People are upset because of perfectly rational factors:

a) Madoff's investors should have diversified their investments;

b) Madoff's investors are receiving special treatment from the government in the form of special tax breaks (paid for by general taxpayers) and more-than-usual government resources;

c) Madoff's investors are seeking to portray themselves as poor widows when most of them are probably still more affluent than 95% of Americans (take a look at Madoff's client list, and you'll see many trusts, private banks, foundations, corporations, and LLCs);

d) most Madoff investors would not have invested heavily with Madoff unless they believed he had an unfair edge or special connections unavailable to the public investor;

e) Madoff's investors believed Madoff was using investment strategies unavailable to the general public (they were right--it just wasn't the strategy they expected).

People are also upset because they see a fundamental shift in values. In the old days, the rich believed they had a duty to the public. They recognized that capitalism necessarily results in winners and losers, and the government could not solve the problems of vast inequality and disparate opportunities by itself. Look at Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and John Pierpont Morgan. It's hard to remember now that J.P. Morgan bailed out the federal government, but it really did happen.

I'm not saying all rich persons have lost their moral compasses. Eli Broad, Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, and Bill and Melinda Gates are doing wonderful things, but most of us work hard every single day and will probably never be worth millions of dollars, or even one million dollars.

Most of Madoff's investors got to the financial promised land and squandered their chance at permanent retirement. They did so voluntarily--no one forced them to violate basic investing rules and to invest heavily with Madoff. Thus, it is hard to stomach the general media's sympathetic coverage of Madoff's investors when so many Americans are homeless, out of work, and live paycheck to paycheck.

[The original post is here.]