The hefty sentence handed down to Bernard Madoff may propel the U.S. to implement financial regulatory reforms, and it signals a turning point in the remodeling of the “American Dream.” However, since there is still much suspense surrounding the case, and the identity of those who had access to the large sums of money swindled by Madoff stills remains a mystery, it will be a long and hard road to the recovery of the American conscience.

After 20 years of deceit and a gargantuan-sized money racket scheme estimated at $65 billion, this once well-reputed and illustrious representative of the “American Dream,” former NASDAQ chair Bernard Madoff, was sentenced on June 29th by the New York Federal Court to 150 years in prison and was ordered to forfeit $170 billion in assets.

Theoretically, since the verdict rendered by a judge of Chinese descent in the court of the southern district of New York was only the first, there is still a possibility for an appeal. However, seeing that Madoff did not chose to defend his innocence after the public prosecutor leveled 11 charges against him, and his wife reached an out of court plea bargain agreement with the prosecution, the probability that the verdict will be overturned is very slight.

This “earth-shattering” verdict means that the now 71-year-old Madoff will not receive any leniency due to his advanced age, and the remainder of his years will be spent in a prison cell. From now on, all that is uncovered under Madoff’s name or in correlation to Madoff will be unconditionally sequestered and confiscated. This means that he will no longer in this lifetime benefit from the property he once enjoyed, including his yachts, villas, and other luxury items.

The tragic end of Madoff, the “American hero,” makes a mockery of the “American Dream.” Central Connecticut State University professor Matthew Warshauer writes in his article “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Changing Conceptions of the American Dream,” that “one component of the American Dream seems, however, to be fairly consistent: the quest for money.” It is precisely this pursuit of excessive wealth that has caused the “American Dream” to go sour, progressively losing its appeal with people in all areas of the world.* A heart enslaved by money was the right breeding ground for Madoff’s deceit.

The hefty sentence handed down to Bernard Madoff may propel the U.S. to implement financial regulatory reforms, and it signals a turning point in the remodeling of the “American Dream.” U.S. financial oversight has been reputed “the American conscience,” but it has time and time again been subject to a “forgotten conscience.” This has given rise to an increasing trend of financial fraud committed by Wall Street listed companies towards the end of the last century and the beginning of the current one. It also led to the spread of corruption among financial insurance companies on Wall Street in 2004 and facilitated an overflow of financial derivatives, creating a financial bubble and setting off the 2008 sub-prime lending crisis, which soon after evolved into a full-blown global economic crisis.

Madoff seems like an isolated case. However, judging by the breach of responsibility within the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the essence and origin (of Madoff and the SEC) are one and the same. Early on in Madoff’s “child’s play” multi-level marketing pyramid/Ponzi scheme, both the media and investors had complete confidence in the SEC. Experts in the U.S. believed that it wouldn't require much to put a stop to these kinds of money rackets. After Madoff’s case broke, the chair of the SEC issued a public apology. In the days leading up to the Madoff verdict, SEC Chief Christopher Cox met with Madoff for a three hour talk. Now, since there is still much suspense and an absence of information concerning who had access to the large sums of money swindled by Madoff, it will be a long and hard road to the recovery of the American conscience.

Clearly, the entire country’s “conscience” has lost control of itself, and both the country and its people are about to suffer real catastrophe. The “conscience” of U.S. oversight agencies has been dislodged and this has given swindlers the opportunity to embark on a career. Obama has already proposed a new set of laws to reform the financial oversight system, and while they are not universally supported, it is finally a step in the right direction towards preserving the “American conscience.” When real accountability is demanded, only then can there be a real assurance of not overlooking one’s conscience. This is true not only for Americans, but all those around the world who use the U.S. dollar as their main currency.

*This sentence is indicated in the original Chinese version as part of the quotation that precedes it; however, upon inspection of the quoted article, it appears that this sentence is either an interpolation or a paraphrase by the Chinese author.