Silver Linings vs. Black Linings

A silver lining is something good, usually long-term, that comes of something bad and helps redeem it, at least a little bit.

So what is a “black lining?” A residual, negative echo of something very bad that continues to reverberate long after the original calamity has faded from memory. Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion swindle is likely to have three very big, black linings.

One. Increased anti-Semitism.

As Rabbi Marc Gellman notes, Enron CEO Ken Lay was never identified as a “prominent Protestant energy broker,” or Rod Blagojevich as “the prominent Serbian-American governor of Illinois.” Yet every single reference to Madoff notes, without fail, his religious affiliation.

Two. Diminished trust, especially in commerce. Consider:

Another thing [Madoff] did was make life incredibly more difficult for people who sell real and honorable and legitimate money products. Now every stock broker and money manager and hedge-fund operator and insurance rep who has already had a tough time convincing prospective clients that what they are selling is good and honest must now also convince them that they are not like [him].
–Rabbi Marc Gellman; Newsweek (12/23/2008)

Three. Poorer communities, long-term.

The money that vanished was earmarked not just for yachts and mansions but things like mortgage payments, college tuition, and medical bills. To the extent that Madoff victimized charities, it’s not an understatement to say he also took basic necessities like food, shelter, and clothing from those without.

Some of what Madoff stole will never be replaced. The rest will have to be made up by everyone else — society — by giving more and getting by with less, in what for many is already a lean time.

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.
4 Responses
  1. Anonymous

    I find it hard to believe this will result in increased anti-semitism. Except for those who were anti semetic already. But think about this – how did people apparently give him billions of dollars, just because, apparently, he was a fellow Jew. I am not Jewish, and I manage money, but I would not give billions to someone because he is the same faith as I am. Which is what I think happened here. Do you disagree? Unfortunately, all Faiths have crooks. To think otherwise is niave, and then to blame persecution is absurd.

  2. Ross Kaplan

    I think it’s a little more multi-faceted than that.

    There are plenty of Jewish money managers out there; if you were Jewish and that was your only criterion, you would still have lots and lots to choose from. So why Madoff?

    I think it had to be his combination of reputation, track record, contacts, and even “allure” (he chose you, not the other way around).

    The concern about increased anti-Semitism has to do with having the headline, “Jew steals billions” blared through the media, online and off, the next few weeks (hopefully, not longer!).

    The very construction of that headline is itself anti-semitic — we agree on that point.

    That’s especially so because Madoff’s Jewishness had nothing to do with his stealing; the Judaism I’ve studied condemns what he did in the strongest possible terms (every rabbi I know or have even heard of devoted their most recent Sat. sermon to denouncing him — compare that to Islamic leaders and terrorism).

    Still, because Madoff’s victims seem to be disproportionately Jewish, you know that that’s going to be a story line, which seems to open the door to identifying his faith, and the fact that that’s one of the ways he cultivated trust.

    I think the bigger truth is, any time you share a significant bond with someone — religion, neighbors, class mates, etc. — you’re more predisposed to to trust them.

    Obviously, that’s only a starting point.

    It’s also emerging that plenty of the people who were most dubious about Madoff were also fellow Jews (read Ben Stein’s NYT column yesterday for his valuable take).

  3. Ned

    Where did the money go? The whole thing is being portrayed as a fraud, a scheme to steal money from investors. Where’s the money? Did he simply lose it?

  4. Ross Kaplan

    “They” — FBI, NY state police, SEC(?) — presumably are pouring over Madoff’s books, trying to answer that. I haven’t seen anything definitive, except that his assets are frozen and his wife seems to be paying his legal fees . .

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