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.
There are certainly Gen X guys like Nick Leeson around. And no one's ever noticed junior bankers getting nicer or more rule abiding.ReplyDelete
But like you've shown before their ability to climb is limited by them not having it as easy as the Silents and Boomers, who had that low competition environment to triumph over. And so they're young bankers are more lifestyle competition focused, of a particularly loathsome conspicuous consumption fuelled variant - possibly more coked up and ho' using than their Silent and Boomer predecessors, less initiative in wealth extraction. Certainly, despite the generally duller behaviour of the youth, tales of champagne swilling, bonus fuelled junior banker decadence grow generation by generation.
Still, less competent at fraudulent wealth extraction, more competent at being decadent lifestyle competitors, sounds all good for the rest of us, as much as it isn't a (laughable) tale of Gen X bankers having more moral fiber in any way.
Also, does white collar crime vary with the murder rate?ReplyDelete
"as much as it isn't a (laughable) tale of Gen X bankers having more moral fiber in any way."ReplyDelete
Sure it is. Hedonism outranks global ruin on the moral fiber scale. Less destructive toward others. And the John Peter Galanis / Allen Stanford generation was hedonistic back in the '80s. Then it was hedonism plus ruin. Today's bankers have limited their ambition to hedonism only.
"does white collar crime vary with the murder rate?"
Probably not, since the status-striving / inequality cycle is independent of the cocooning / violent crime / property crime cycle.
I once looked up about a dozen off-the-top-of-my-head serial killers and they were all Silents. The only two who were not were Ed Gein (1906) and the lesser known, but the most evil man I've ever heard about, Albert Fish (1870).ReplyDelete
Like with white collar crime, they were committing it at different ages, but it was the same cohort.
That would be good subject for greater analysis. That was the worst downside of cocooning I have yet to come across. No, I'm not worried I'm raising future serial killers, but recognize these guys are extreme with their psychopathy and entitlement.
Boomers could have been committing these crimes, they spent their prime years well within the crime era, but they just aren't committing them. I want to think there was one born around 1946, but don't remember who of if I even have that year rightReplyDelete
I think you're missing something basic. As somebody on iSteve mentioned just the other day, Michael Kinsley once said, "The scandal is what's legal." (He probably said that within the last 15 yrs.) So you have the scrapping of Glass-Steagall, the whole motgage backed securities/affordable housing scam, where you force banks to lend money to deadbeats and then, amasingly, sue them for doing what you demanded, you have the government-private military contracting scam (blackwater). All of these can be said to be continuing gen-X operations, even if the initial enablers were boomers (Clinton, Barney Frank). And the guy who ran Enron day to day was gen-X. That was the most cynical operation ever.ReplyDelete
I don't believe modern bankers are nearly as hedonistic as they let on, just as Millenials are never as wild as their Facebook pictures seem to indicate. Sexual promiscuity closely parallels the crime rate, and the substance abuse rate started falling in the early 2000s.ReplyDelete
The difference is that young bankers today are more likely to garishly brag.
The Boomers are the most diabolical bastards around, but the succeeding generations are just politically correct multi-culti pro-immigrationists bleating to the the government to important tens of millions of Islamist Third Worlders so they have an excuse to live with their parents forever and enjoy the increasing vibrancy.ReplyDelete
Sorry, I got carried away there for a moment, it's not quite that bad.
In fact they don't want to live with their parents forever.
"And the Millennials after them don't seem to have an ambitious bone in their bodies"ReplyDelete
Some of them are ambitious, but they are focused more on arts and academics then entrepreneurial ideas. Strauss and Howe point out that when members of the Silent Generation did manage to make an impact, it was usually as musicians or actors.
To be fair, the Millenials are really being held down.
"They shake your hand and they smile and they buy you a drink. They say, 'We'll be your friends, we'll stick with you till the end', Ah, but everybody's only looking out for themselves. And you say, 'Well who can you trust', I'll tell you it's just nobody else's money."ReplyDelete
agnostic Probably not, since the status-striving / inequality cycle is independent of the cocooning / violent crime / property crime cycle.ReplyDelete
All the ideas behind general crime rate increases with more people being open to interaction and willing to take risks leading to more criminal activity and victimisation might still apply in the financial sphere though?
curtis I don't believe modern bankers are nearly as hedonistic as they let on, just as Millenials are never as wild as their Facebook pictures seem to indicate. Sexual promiscuity closely parallels the crime rate, and the substance abuse rate started falling in the early 2000s.
Yeah, I think you're right. Probably more conspicuous hedonism, and then only as part of conspicuous consumption, than actual hedonism. Lifestyle competition on a larger scale more than more risky (fun) behaviors.
ally "The scandal is what's legal." (He probably said that within the last 15 yrs.) So you have the scrapping of Glass-Steagall, the whole motgage backed securities/affordable housing scam, where you force banks to lend money to deadbeats and then, amasingly, sue them for doing what you demanded, you have the government-private military contracting scam (blackwater). All of these can be said to be continuing gen-X operations, even if the initial enablers were boomers (Clinton, Barney Frank). And the guy who ran Enron day to day was gen-X.
I think that's a point. The "quants" behind the housing bubble were all, I'd guess, young guys just because that's a place where you can climb high as a young man, since fluid intelligence falls off a lot faster than crystallised intelligence (which only gets higher into mid life). That's a good test because the Boomers wouldn't be as capable of taking those positions, there's a lot of churn at the high end as it should be fairly age limited.
Rolf Harris, accused child molester, has the gay face chronicled by agnostic on this blog:ReplyDelete
"I think that's a point. The "quants" behind the housing bubble were all, I'd guess, young guys just because that's a place where you can climb high as a young man, since fluid intelligence falls off a lot faster than crystallised intelligence (which only gets higher into mid life). That's a good test because the Boomers wouldn't be as capable of taking those positions, there's a lot of churn at the high end as it should be fairly age limited."ReplyDelete
Maybe, but I don't think it falls off that much. If you have a lot of fluid intelligence when you're young, you'll probably still have a lot when you're older, too. As this post points out, Bernie Madoff was in his 60s when he was scamming everyone; and young Millenial men don't seem to have a flair for scams(at least, not yet).
"All the ideas behind general crime rate increases with more people being open to interaction and willing to take risks leading to more criminal activity and victimisation might still apply in the financial sphere though?"ReplyDelete
With violent and property crimes, the victims are everyday people. If the general public is more trusting and outgoing, they're easier prey for criminals.
White-collar crime at the Madoff level is different. The criminals aren't preying directly on everyday folks who are trusting, but instead conducting shady deals out of the overseers' sight -- or with their complicity, if they've corrupted the overseers as well.
The victims themselves are usually trying to get rich quick or otherwise shoot up the status pyramid by leaps and bounds -- owning a half-million-dollar home despite having a meager income and nothing to make a down payment with. The Ponzi schemers and bubble orchestrators have to rely on a large pool of eager status-strivers -- not necessarily folks who are letting their guard down, as with violent criminals.
"The "quants" behind the housing bubble were all, I'd guess, young guys"ReplyDelete
Well there's no bubble with just the quants around. They're more like technology for the true engineers ("human capital"). The quants want to get paid big so they can live it up -- they're not the agents of the big swindle. Amoral rather than immoral.
And I didn't say that there were no Gen X-ers involved -- big-time swindles have always been "a specialty" of Silents and Boomers, not their exclusive ownership.
"I once looked up about a dozen off-the-top-of-my-head serial killers and they were all Silents."ReplyDelete
I remember seeing at B&N a print encyclopedia of serial killers that someone could look through to chart their birth years. There's also a website I haven't looked through: Murderpedia. Wikipedia has a "list of serial killers in the United States," where you could click on their names to find out their birth year.
I think there's more Boomers than you're remembering, though -- Ted Bundy, Son of Sam, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ottis Toole (killed Adam Walsh among others).
That triggered my memory... Most were Silents or oldest boomers. Dahmer always seemed like a youngen among the serial killers when I was a kid, the last of his kind and now I see he really was the youngest (1960). Rodney Acala, a genius, was finally fingered for his murders a couple years ago, making him sort of the last, but he's a Silent. Dahmer and the son of Sam guy are the only non 30s and 40s births I can think of. Interesting also that Otis Toole (1947) partnered up with Henry Lee Lucas (1936), probably the most prolific serial killer in the world. I knew Lucas was a Silent and assumed Toole would have been as well, but had forgotten the nature of their relationship and that it wasn't an equal peer friendship.ReplyDelete
What stood out overall was that given that boomers were past of a, well, baby boom they were poorly represented and not spread out well over its span and the Silents were part of a birth dearth.
Spent several hours on serial killers noting birthdays but got absorbed in stories; would like to give it the attention it deserves someday. Anyway, you're right that there were more boomers than I guessed. The 1940s, however, was the decade for birthing those men. The 30s, 50s, and up through 1965 saw decent representation. They seem to be a phenomenon where Gen X is absent.ReplyDelete
Keep in mind, I'm talking about killers who almost always used sexual assault, stalked, and sadism was often involved.
They confound the explanations. Overwhelmingly, they were bad kids so environment is inadequate. They come and go in cycles so genetics doesn't work completely. Finally, many victims were taken out of their homes, so while outgoing-ness explains much, more is needed.
Funny, how you can revisit a topic and see something new. One thing that stood out is that there wasn't a single sexually repressed man in the bunch. Prostitutes, girlfriends, wives, these men had no trouble. Nobody found it worthy of mention as if this was common for every man to be able to get women easily. They were the anti-Elliot Rodgers. They were swimming in *it* and their victims got hell on earth whereas Rodgers and his ilk comparatively killed so cleanly. In fact, other crimes back then included more opportunistic sadism like the video store robbery in the mountain west in the 80s. We had an infamous incident near me when a black man set two witnesses on fire, but I'm pretty sure he left rather than stay to watch.
One more thing: Pliers Bittacker... Cocooning forever!
At Crime library, when reading about Bittaker, they claim that Southern California produced 10% of all American serial killers from 1950-2000.ReplyDelete
What an astounding statistic!
As Steve Sailer, à southern Californian himself observed about spree or serial killers, they are indeed monsters of ego.
"Coming out this week is another one of those nauseatingly cutesy, inoffensive, "ReplyDelete
How can something be nauseating yet offensive? You're just a shit writer bud.
Everybody else understood. Read it again.ReplyDelete
Nauseating what extremes they go to so that helicopter parents won't have anything to complain about or object to.
I think that what has been happening is that the big time swindlers have been going into the government. Much more consistent rewards and far less risk if you are caught.ReplyDelete