January 11, 2021 Book Review

Bernie Madoff and the Crisis: The Public Trial of Capitalism

Interview by Robert Costello

Bernie Madoff and the Crisis: The Public Trial of Capitalism
Written by Colleen Eren, Stanford University Press, 224 pages, 2017, 978-0804795586

The revelation of a son about his father’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme took the world by storm as it offered twists and subplots worthy of any intense drama or work of fiction. Eren, armed with a doctorate in sociology and serving as director of the Criminal Justice and Criminology Program at William Paterson University, investigates this case with dozens of interviews of journalists, officials within the SEC, and Bernie Madoff.

How did you become interested in white-collar crime?

I think the Financial Crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, including the Occupy movement, was a deeply formative influence for many millennials, myself included. I was in graduate school at the time, and the “standard story” about white-collar crime in criminological theory was that such offenses are not seen as serious crime by the general public, and that because many white-collar offenses are committed by those with disproportionate amounts of wealth and power, those individuals are not punished as harshly. The Financial Crisis generally proved some of this to be true—let’s recall that Kareem Serageldin was the only banker in the United States to be sentenced to jail time as a result of the crisis. However, the outrage against Madoff during this time, with many calling for all methods of torture to be used against him, and his extraordinarily long prison sentence of 150 years, certainly didn’t point to an indifferent public. Furthermore, the wrongdoing in the financial sector that helped precipitate a gargantuan collapse was laid bare, shown to be the enormous social problem it is. It showed me that this very neglected, complex, and fascinating area of criminological research was deserving of more scholarly attention.

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