When the current wave of white-collar crime was in its early stage during the 1980s, one of its most notorious figures — Michael Milken, the junk bond king — was scarcely 40 years old. Fast-forward 20 years, and the leader of one of the largest Ponzi schemes ever — Bernie Madoff — had passed 70.
Do these two examples suggest a graying of the white-collar criminal class? Where are all the enterprising mega-swindlers in their late 30s and early 40s nowadays?
Wikipedia has a category page that lists 100 American white-collar criminals. Strikingly, something like 80-90% of them are members of the Silent and Baby Boomer generations. Now, some of them may be minor figures in the huckster hall of shame, but not most of them who are infamous enough to be included in such lists.
The Silents and Boomers are not simply carrying on a tradition passed down from earlier generations. There are only two real examples who were born before 1925. Charles Keating was born in '23, but his crimes belonged to the savings-and-loans crisis of the late '80s — not to an earlier period that the Silents and Boomers were the descendants of. Only Louis Wolfson, born 1912, disgraced himself before the current wave, back in the late '60s. (Sam Gilbert, born 1913, was not in finance.)
How about on the other side of the Silent/Boomer cohort — Gen X? I count only one who is American, in finance / Ponzi schemes, caused massive damage, and was born after 1964: Laura Pendergest-Holt (born '74). In their favor, births from the first half of the '60s appeared to be uncommon too.
Browsing around other lists of "top 10" worst white-collar criminals don't turn up many further examples not already in the Wikipedia list (such as Nicholas Cosmo, born '71). And of course those other lists include Silents and Boomers not already on Wikipedia's list.
It seems that no matter whether the high-level crimes were committed during the '70s, '80s, '90s, or 21st century, it has almost always been Silents and Boomers who were behind it — back then as upstarts, now as the Establishment. They were the original "Me Generation" of the 1970s whose thirst for higher and higher status instituted the dog-eat-dog morality in place of the Midcentury norms of making-do and reining-it-in which kept individual ambitions from destroying societal cohesion.
It can come as no surprise that these generations have produced the worst offenders throughout the entirety of the white-collar crime wave that has been escalating for the past 30 to 40 years.
Fortunately, though, this bodes well for the future since the Silents and Boomers aren't going to be living for too much longer. And their Gen X successors do not appear to be so driven by greed to take on the mantle. If anything, their guiding purpose has been to expose hypocrisy rather than to rationalize the dog-eat-dog morality. And the Millennials after them don't seem to have an ambitious bone in their bodies — not exactly the source of the Next Big Thing, but not the engineers of the next big Ponzi scheme either.