In­side the mind of a con­man

When ev­ery­one is cheat­ing, says De­clan Lynch, get­ting the breaks is some­times just down to the roll of the dice

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - NEWS -

There are times when I find it hard to be judg­men­tal. In­deed, there are some who would be judg­men­tal about my dif­fi­culty in this area, and I can un­der­stand that. I do not judge them.

Though it is prob­a­bly more ac­cu­rate to say that I don’t find it very in­ter­est­ing, be­ing judg­men­tal. You’re in­formed of some ter­ri­ble thing that some ter­ri­ble per­son has done, and once you’ve de­liv­ered your­self of a suit­ably damn­ing verdict — “What a ter­ri­ble per­son he is, in­deed” — you’re kinda done.

I find there are times when you need a bit more . . . nu­ance. And if you’re in the writ­ing game, em­bark­ing on 300 pages of a novel, you prob­a­bly need all the nu­ance you can get.

So when I read about th­ese guys, such as Bernie Mad­off, run­ning some as­ton­ish­ing Ponzi scheme and get­ting away with it for years, or even decades, nat­u­rally, I am ap­palled. And yet I also find it so in­ter­est­ing I am pre­pared to make my own in­vest­ment, as it were, to try to imag­ine what it must be like to be car­ry­ing around this aw­ful knowl­edge.

Or maybe to your Bernie Mad­off it’s not that aw­ful at all. Maybe that’s why they can do it — there’s just some fac­ulty that the rest of us have that is di­min­ished in them — es­sen­tially, a lack of fear of the con­se­quences. Or per­haps just an in­abil­ity to see that there will be any con­se­quences, see­ing as how they’re such smart guys.

So in some ways, they may be un­der­de­vel­oped, yet in other ways, they are, if you’ll par­don the ex­pres­sion, rich. They are loaded with self-be­lief, with the con­fi­dence in their own abil­ity that tells them they will never go down, they will al­ways find a way.

How the hell can such peo­ple, ev­ery day of their lives, con­tinue to gam­ble for such as­tro­nom­i­cal stakes?

I do not know, which is why I felt that I needed to write some­thing on quite a large scale to get some idea of it. And be­cause stand­ing there say­ing, “You’re a very bad man in­deed” — while it is sat­is­fy­ing on a cer­tain level — doesn’t seem to work very well.

In­deed, in any­thing in­volv­ing money, it is get­ting in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish any kind of stan­dard by which you might rea­son­ably make what used to be knows as a ‘moral’ judge­ment, to make a neat list of the bad guys. Be­cause there are just so many of them.

If I was a Bernie Mad­off, or even a Breifne O’Brien, I might be won­der­ing from time to time why ex­actly I am in jail, when some of the peo­ple I used to know in the fi­nan­cial-ser­vices sec­tor are out play­ing golf.

The rate of ap­pre­hen­sion of fi­nan­cial wrong-do­ers is so low, you’d have to say that any­one who is ac­tu­ally con­victed of a crime on this area, can re­gard them­selves as be­ing gen­uinely un­lucky.

It’s a bit like the dop­ers in sport. The few who are “done” for it, may not be the most like­able of in­di­vid­u­als, but you have to say they haven’t had the breaks ei­ther. The breaks that nearly ev­ery other doper seems to get, in­clud­ing the ones who are out there pro­nounc­ing on the scourge of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs, and how there must be no hid­ing place for the “cheats”.

Thus it is with fi­nan­cial “dop­ing”, whereby any or­di­nary de­cent con man is en­ti­tled to ask the great ques­tion — if ev­ery­one is cheat­ing, what’s a fella sup­posed to do?

Cer­tainly the crimes of the Ponzi men are so egre­gious, they seem to merit some spe­cial sanc­tion. And yet they can ar­gue, with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, that the en­tire global fi­nan­cial sys­tem has be­come a kind of a Ponzi scheme, doomed to col­lapse with in­creas­ingly fre­quency, with the mugs who will take the hit al­ready marked out by the “play­ers”. That to be mak­ing “moral” dis­tinc­tions be­tween one set of shake­down mer­chants and the sort who pop­u­late Wall Street and the City, you’d need the foren­sic skills in this area of a St Thomas Aquinas.

Which raises the truly ter­ri­fy­ing ques­tion as to whether it is moral­ity, or the lack of it, which de­ter­mines one’s fate, or whether it is mainly a ques­tion of who gets the breaks and who doesn’t?

In the end, is it all down to noth­ing more high-minded than the turn of a card or the roll of the dice?

I’ ll let you be the judge.

‘The Ponzi Man’, a novel by De­clan Lynch, pub­lished by Ha­chette Ire­land, is out now

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