Why does Bernie Madoff get 150 years in prison while convicted child rapists and other violent offenders get far, far less? For that matter, why do non-violent drug offenders (and really, who are they offending?) get more than these violent criminals? Madoff seems to be the scapegoat for a lot, if not all, of our frustration over the financial meltdown.  Yes, many people blame the Wall Street financiers but they are a group – just a collection of navy pinstripe suits.  Madoff is one, tangible person.  I am not trying to solicit sympathy for him but rather put this sentence into some perspective and urge folks not to loose sight of what is at the crux of this crisis. 

It’s not that one person got greedy; it’s not that one company got greedy; it’s that Gordon Gecko’s (satirical – seriously, ask Oliver Stone,) motto was taken to heart and this nation got greedy – every one of us. 

Okay, maybe not everyone and maybe not everyone is greedy with regard to money, but we are a gluttonous nation, to be sure.  We always want more; we want what’s bigger and better (even if it’s really not better…) We want the new and improved edition, even though if something is new it cannot possibly be improved (it’s new – there was nothing there before to improve upon.  A product is either new or it’s improved – not both.) We super size our meals and get the larger popcorn for only a quarter more – what a great value! As a nation, we gorge on the things we don’t need more (or even any) of and balk when we’re encouraged to scale back to sensible portions or options.

What Bernie Madoff did was wrong.  He should and is being punished for what he did.  The economy is in the toilet, though, not solely because of what Madoff did; lots of other people and companies and, yes, the government, are culpable.  Where’s their punishment? AIG got bailed out.  Heads did not roll (at least the way they should have.) 

Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article, The Big Takeover, took an in-depth look at the causes of the financial crisis and it wasn’t Madoff.  Taibbi explained what all the derivatives were, where the money went, to whom it was promised and so on; readers got an economic education. He made the argument that the gross deregulation that went on over the last 20, really almost 30 years, is what laid the ground work for the kind of unraveling currently taking place. 

The worst part of all this is that the same overpaid lobbyists who championed such deregulation are still swinging.  And many of them on our taxpayer bailout dollars.  That’s right:  Some of the financial institutions that received bailout money are using said money, i.e., yours and mine, to pay, at well above minimum wage, fat-cats to continue to pressure Congress and the Obama administration to uphold the non-regulations.  Where’s their punishment?

Madoff gets 150 years in prison.  His wife has to give back her mink.  The oldest established permanent floating financial boondoggle is still upon us.  Who’s won?