Few remember the name of William Dodd, but many will recognize Samuel Johnson's observation on his mental state, recorded by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson: "Depend upon it Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Dodd, a Cambridge-educated preacher whose high living landed him in debt trouble, had been convicted of forgery, which Boswell described as "the most dangerous crime in a commercial country." Despite Dr. Johnson's strenuous public advocacy for leniency in the case, Dodd was hanged on June 27, 1777.The example of Dodd always comes to mind with news of great financial scandals. Like the United Kingdom, the United States is a "commercial country," where trust in business promises is essential for the regular functioning of the society. Those who violate that trust through fraud not only undermine the working assumptions of the system, they potentially wreak destruction upon the lives of the defrauded. Luckily for Bernard Madoff, financial criminals are not hanged these days, since he did so much more harm than did William Dodd.
While Dodd's punishment seems excessive to us today, there is something to be said for punishing financial crimes more severely than judges typically do. In the case of petty crimes, it makes sense to distinguish between violent and non-violent crimes at sentencing. However, it should be appreciated that theft essentially robs a people of part of their lives: the toil of years evaporates into a waste. Therefore, theft on a grand scale - which is what Madoff's crimes amount to - must be appreciated for the devastation it cause to lives, the destruction of time and effort that could have been spent otherwise, more easily, more joyfully, perhaps more healthfully.
By this criterion, one could form some rough estimate of the years Bernard Madoff has stolen from those who trusted them. My guess is that they add up to more than the 150-year sentence he received today which, unfortunately, he will not be able to serve in its entirety.Theft on a grand scale - which is what Madoff's crimes amount to - must be appreciated for the devastation it cause to lives, the destruction of time and effort that could have been spent otherwise, more easily, more joyfully, perhaps more healthfully.
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio