Holman W. Jenkins Jr. swats away the predictable outcry for more regulation, and observes that when one finds oneself with a problem involving lemons, one should simply make lemonade.
Where was the SEC? Such is the plaint lofted in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal.
When has the Securities and Exchange Commission ever found a fraud except by reading about it in the newspapers? …
What makes the Madoff story interesting, though not evidence of systematic failure of the regulatory or legal system, is that Mr. Madoff and some of his clients had dealt on a basis of trust for more than a generation. True Ponzi schemes, in which early investors are paid a “return” out of funds deposited by later investors, tend to falter at the first market downturn. Waning investor enthusiasm dries up new funds required to pay off earlier investors. The scheme collapses.
In all likelihood, Mr. Madoff was not running a pure Ponzi scheme, but had real assets. He was operating a blind pool, in which investors had no real idea what they owned or how it was performing, relying on Mr. Madoff who reported metronomic returns, brooked no nosiness into his methods, and seemed always willing to pay off investors who wanted to withdraw their money.
He may have been casual from the start about what money he used to pay withdrawals. It is almost inconceivable, though, that he could have built a true Ponzi scheme to a height of $50 billion, in which there were never any real assets, just his superhuman 40-year juggling act to ensure new investors were recruited as needed to provide funds to meet withdrawal requests from earlier investors.
If so, he is a genius who should immediately be put in charge of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.