On a plane yesterday I watched the 2011 documentary “Chasing Madoff”. It is the story of how independent financial analyst Harry Markopolis and his three friends spent ten years trying to expose Bernie Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme that scammed an estimated $18 billion from investors.
The film is a little quirky but entertaining and clearly shows that Madoff built his 50 billion dollar Ponzi scheme with a lot of help from a lot of people. There was the global network of financial advisors and feeder funds who collected rich commissions funneling a constant stream of new clients to the Madoff group. There were the clients who wanted to believe unrealistic numbers. The finance types who suspected things were fishy but did nothing. The regulators and media all who failed their job of oversight and investigative reporting.
A culpable group that is not mentioned in this film, are the politicians and finance heads who fought for deregulation over the past 30 years gutting the powers, and most importantly the budget, of the SEC and other financial regulators to apathetic levels. The finance industry did not want to be regulated. The politicians did not want financial offenders to be prosecuted. And so monster corruption blossomed. Madoff was a sociopathic criminal to be sure. But in many ways this is a story that many in the free world wrote together through our collective choices and behaviour. There is much to be learned here. Here is the trailer.