The German playwright Bertolt Brecht once asked, “What is the crime of robbing a bank compared to the crime of owning a bank?”
He could have been talking about Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff, who now awaits trial charged with defrauding $50 billion from a string of banks and fantastically rich individuals.
Madoff – a pillar of “respectability” and a former chair of the Nasdaq stock exchange – ran a hedge fund that was in fact a giant pyramid scheme. He used money paid in by new clients to pay off earlier “investors”.
The banks that fell for this include the Royal Bank of Scotland, Santander, BNP Paribas and HSBC. These are the kind of people we are repeatedly told we need to run things on our behalf – yet these people got hooked by a con any streetwise teenager could have spotted.