Capital crime and the Art of the "Con" Artist

A conversation on Madoff and the relationship between confidence, capitalism, and desire


Fields of Knowledge
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Politics / Economics
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions



Patricia Gherovici

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Capital crime and the art of the 'Con' artist: The Madoff Case," a conversation with Marcel Drach and Manya Steinkoler on Thursday, December 10, from 6:30-8:30pm. This event will explore contemporary economic realities by joining economic analysis with cultural critique.

This conversation takes as its starting point Bernie Madoff's $50 billion Ponzi scheme, the admitted operator of the Ponzi scheme that might be "the largest investment fraud in Wall Street history." But the crime is much bigger than Madoff and even his victims. Perhaps Madoff's crimes enable us to reflect not just on his own behavior but arguably an entire economic system that it has called into question. Was Bernie Madoff the most accomplished 'pervert' in the history of capitalism, an elaborate confidence artist who knew how to create desire? Or was he himself a deluded victim of the fundamental shortcomings of the model of late financial capitalism? Did his crime simply consist in guaranteeing "normal" dividends, and what does this tell us about our own psychic relation to economic desire?

Bernard Lawrence "Bernie" Madoff (1938) started his firm in 1960 as a penny stock trader with $5,000 (about $35,000 in 2008 dollars), earned from working as a lifeguard and sprinkler installer. His fledgling business began to grow with the assistance of his father-in-law, accountant Saul Alpern, who referred a circle of friends and their families. Madoff founded the Wall Street firm Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960. Years later, Madoff would become the Chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange. On December 10, 2008, Madoff's sons told authorities that their father had just confessed to them that the asset management arm of his firm was a massive Ponzi scheme; they quoted him as saying it was "one big lie," one that defrauded nearly 4,800 investors of billions of dollars. Federal investigators believe his investment operation may never have been legitimate. The amount missing from client accounts, including fabricated gains, was almost $65 billion. The court appointed trustee estimated actual losses to investors of $18 billion. On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum allowed. Ignoring opportunity costs and taxes paid on fictitious profits, less than half of Madoff's direct investors lost money, however. Nevertheless, Madoff's personal and business asset freeze has created a chain reaction throughout the world's business and philanthropic community, closing many, including the Picower Foundation, and the JEHT Foundation.

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Marcel Drach is a Professor in Economics at Paris Dauphine university, former Program Director at the Collège international de philosophie (Paris).

Manya Steinkoler is an Associate Professor at Manhattan College, CUNY.