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
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