Detecting fraud is one of the most important roles for government. But our friends in power tend to be incompetent at it.
This becomes clear in light of that most costly Ponzi scheme, Bernie Madoff’s.
Before he was caught, Madoff — who now paints signs in prison — perpetrated one of the longest-running scams in investment history. It wasn’t an investment scheme that lost its way. No, it was a fraud through and through. It cost his marks billions.
Joseph Cotchett, a lawyer for some of Madoff’s victims, interviewed the fraudster at length. Cotchett calls Madoff “charming” and “no dummy.” But he noted that his fraud was not a great work of sophistication: “It is amazing how simple it was.”
Still, the regulators responsible for finding this kind of fraud didn’t see it. Early in the millennium, Madoff thought he might get caught. In 2005, the SEC sat down with him, and he thought the gig was up. Regulators, insists Cotchett, did not dig “to the next level, and the next level was not deep by his own admission.”
Lots of folks clamor, these days, for more regulation. Here’s my advice: Improve the most basic form of regulation — protection against fraud — and build on success. Leave complicated micromanagement stuff alone until governments get competent at the very basics.
If you cannot detect an unsophisticated fraud, how can you run a very sophisticated economy?
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.