One hundred and fifty years in prison: The absurdity of the number of years of imprisonment handed down upon Bernard Madoff points to the eccentricity of American criminal law. But it also reflects an ironic symbol: those excessive years in prison are those which other leaders of this affair have escaped.

Bernard Madoff is certainly not a scapegoat. He ruined numerous investors, many of which weren’t rolling around in gold and who will now end their lives in poverty for having trusted him. But above all he is the symbol of a system, an ideology even, of laissez-faire financiers. All of those screaming daredevils – and don’t think that there aren’t more of them – who responded that the free market game was worth every regulation, that cheating was a fringe reality, and that the cure of public control would be far worse.

Has this ideology been brought down in the face of all these accumulated disasters? Not in any way. Madoff’s life sentence is more like a redemption. The system shows it to be merciless toward those who fall, but we will wait until the bracket of the crisis closes again in order take back what was lost. The Obama administration and regulatory agents certainly want real reforms, but they are up against powerful interests endorsed by some intelligent and creative ideologues. The battle is underway, and some advances have been made, but fewer than they might have hoped. Will Madoff’s punishment exonerate the guilty ones?

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