What Made Madoff Do It?

What made Bernard Madoff go off the rails, taking his business, his reputation, several family members and the fortunes of dozens of his friends with him? Blind greed? Some secret contempt for the rich whom he had helped get richer? These kinds of questions don’t usually yield easy answers, but New York magazine takes a crack at the Madoff mystery in this week’s issue. Bonus points to whoever came up with the headline, “The Monster Mensch.”

New York magazine:

Madoff, though, kept his own mess, his own monstrousness, hidden away. His operation was relentlessly predatory, systematically looting charities, longtime friends, family, as well as investors spread around the globe. And yet it seems unlikely that he was a sociopath in the classic sense, someone indifferent to the feelings of those around him. In daily life, he wasn’t callous or cruel. Just the opposite. He valued people’s good opinion and wanted to impress. He didn’t simply treat people as means to an end. He was a great boss. He took care of his employees as if they were family and, until the end, of his investors, too. “Everybody relied on Bernie,” says one longtime investor. “He was one thing you thought you could count on. And he enjoyed being counted on.”

And yet, of course, to provide for someone is to have power over them, and Bernie liked that, too. Now it was Bernie from Queens who waved his hand and granted entry to the magic kingdom where he minted money—and Bernie didn’t let in everyone. Bernie was simultaneously compassionate and grand. As he told one charity: “I promised the Steinbergs I’d take care of the American Jewish Congress,” which was the Steinbergs’ favorite cause and which gave Bernie $11 million, more than half of its endowment.

Bernie loved the Bernie Madoff he’d become, a Wall Street legend, a protector of charities, a man who was wealthy and so much more. Even if he couldn’t be that man without stealing.

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