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Madoff, transparency, and electoral regulation

Written By: - Date published: 1:13 pm, December 28th, 2008 - 17 comments
Categories: election funding - Tags: , ,

Reading about Madorf and the filching of USD 33 billion in a pyramid scheme from his select group of customers makes for interesting reading. It draws the attention (yet again) to the dangers of having a lack of transparency in financial markets. As the Economist says, it was “Dumb money and dull diligence“.

What marks Mr Madoff’s case out, however, is the calibre of investor he suckered. It is not the first time that wealthy people have been swindled out of huge sums of money, nor will it be the last. But never have so many big financial institutions—the oxymoronic ‘smart money’—been so bilked by an individual. It is here that investors, as well as the authorities, should tighten the thumbscrews and demand more transparency.

This is the key lesson that should have been learnt from the current financial turmoil. There is always ‘dumb’ money out there – often even marketed as being smart. It always shows at the end of a economic cycle. What has been interesting this time around is how much of the ‘smart’ and supposedly well informed (at least that is what they charge for) providers of investment services have been getting done.

The reason is simple. The market relies on reasonably complete information being available to significiant sections of the market for it to function efficiently. It has said so in every course and book that I’ve ever read. The converse is also true. That having information restricted provides opportunities to those in the know. If the information is essentially not available, as in the case of this scheme, then it is likely to be a market scam.

Not even the best of regulators (and the SEC is not that) can be sure of stopping a determined fraudster. The authorities can, however, help investors make better judgments by requiring more disclosure from hedge funds and other high-fee asset managers. It would have been particularly useful to know how much of their clients’ money they were investing in inscrutable people and illiquid assets—even if, at the time, few investors may have cared.

The analogy to the ‘discussion’ of the Electoral Finance Act 2007 is much the same. A lot of the act was put in place to ensure that the known loopholes and problems in the Electoral Act 1993 were repaired or fixed. Many of these had been exploited by various parties and their supporters in the elections between 1996 and 2005 – mostly by National and Act.

In particular the whopping great big hole with using anonymous trusts to conceal the sources of finance involved in campaigning in the political arena. The purported anonymity of donors from recipients had all of the hallmarks of the fragility of the financial ‘chinese’ walls from the 1987 crash. This was a corruption scandal waiting to happen because of the lack of transparency about donors. Fortunately even the National party appears to realize this – it appears to be one area that they want to keep from the EFA.

However at present, we still have absolutely no ideas what they are planning on putting in to correct for the other flaws in the EA 1993. Based on recent experience of their autocratic, arrogant, and undemocratic behavior in the house, we will probably see some opaque, badly written, and badly thought through legislation pushed through under urgency.

But after all, this is the ‘smart’ money party – what else do you expect? They like low-transparent solutions – it is after all how you seperate the suckers from their assets like votes or money. Madoff would probably approve.

17 comments on “Madoff, transparency, and electoral regulation ”

  1. infused 1

    The information was out there. Many people did not get sucked in as this deal was too good to be true. People were just greedy, that’s all there is too it.

    National will repel the EFA and has said time and time again they would sit down with major parties to sort a new EFA out.

    The only reason the EFA was introduced was to sink National, don’t kid yourself. That back fired in a big way.

    I don’t see how you see these the same.

  2. rave 2

    Madoff was playing the game. Its all a giant ponzi. You take the money off the punters and then pay them with the money off the next lot of suckers. Finance flybynights in NZ did the same taking out fat dividends for their bullshit. When the bubble bursts those who run the schemes seldom suffer. An occasional altruistic suicide. Nothing compared with the other damage inflicted on all the little people who don’t have a bolt hole in a tax haven?

    How to you regulate the ponzi when the bull is running the china shop? Paulson was CEO of Goldman Sachs one of the big three survivors. Greenspan and Bernanke are academics but selected to play the game. The central banks are owned by the private banks. Ultimately if you want to stop the game you have to close down the owners of the banks the finance capitalists, and nationalise the lot. Obama is too into the system to make any difference here. His main financial advisor was CEO of Fanny Mae who got paid $50 million for cooking its books. That’s a familiar sort of round figure.

    Expecting transparency from these guys is delusory, just like its delusory to expect some form of EFA to stop the rich from buying elections. The rich who own the media bought the last election with a bit of help from Ashcroft and his mates Crosby-Textor. All the needed was a few buttons and dog whistles and hey thats democracy for you.
    Even if you limited election spending to public funding, the MSM will not be stopped from robbing elections by manipulating the news and the issues. Its called demagoguery.

    The only way to stop this is to rebuild mass support for a working class political party that acts independently of the MSM, and to beef up the alternative media so that the lies, corruption and greed that this system is built on are exposed. Keep your backup servers under your grandmothers beds comrades.

  3. burt 3


    However at present, we still have absolutely no ideas what they are planning on putting in to correct for the other flaws in the EA 1993. Based on recent experience of their autocratic, arrogant, and undemocratic behavior in the house, we will probably see some opaque, badly written, and badly thought through legislation pushed through under urgency.

    That quote could have been lifted from a “right wing nut job” website whilst the first drafts of the EFB was first popping it’s head above the covers.

    Congratulations, you have become “Opposition”.

    As for National/ACT exploiting the o1993 act more than the Labour-led govt, I think you need to qualify that quite carefully. Remembering that the Labour-led govt validated 14 years of ‘whatever’ – I don’t suspect the Labour-led govt did that highly irregular act to look after the opposition. You discussion of trusts points to a difference in supporter donation levels rather than a difference in how the parties used the trusts. I don’t think “they did it too but were given more money by their supporters” is a good defense for leaving the use of trusts in the EFA 2007. So remind me again who was abusing the trust laws of the 1993 act that were reintroduced into the EFA which was passed under urgency.

  4. lprent 4

    infused: National will repel the EFA and has said time and time again they would sit down with major parties to sort a new EFA out.

    Crap. Repeal the EFA yes, everything else is in your head. They haven’t said that the want to put anything else in apart from reverting to the EA with a couple of tweaks. The only reason for those tweaks is because they used those to attack NZF.

    In NZ the political parties campaigns cost roughly in the same order as the cost of running the election. We haven’t gone through the campaign inflation that has happened in other countries.

    The reason for that is not that we have had adequate legislation around elections – we have never have had that. It is because the type of game playing around elections that required large spending generally did not occur. The exceptions were the geographical electorate boundary gerrymanders under FPP.

    So the elections have been fought more on issues rather than the perception levels, than is common in most countries. Effectively it required an effective understanding between the major parties about what is permissible.

    The problem is that the Nat’s broke that in 2005 because of the way that they gameplayed the actual rules, and ignored the implied that made the system work. They started the campaign early and their massive use of corrupting anonymous donations. Similarly their whisper campaigns after 2005 were also far beyond the pale. Effectively they broke the implicit political bounds.

    The National party has to now be regarded as being fundamentally untrustworthy when it comes to electoral matters – especially after using Crosby Textor for two elections. In fact it would not surprise me to find if they were starting to get corrupt.

    So now we need more legislation and regulation. Now that basically doesn’t suit the Nat’s. They will attempt to return to a looser arrangement than the EFA. The problem is that no-one including the parties of the right trusts them. So what they will do is exactly what they said – they will repeal the EFA, and add a few things about anonymous trusts to the EA.

    They will then try to delay any thought of reform. If they follow the usual game plan for avoiding the reform, they will attempt to blame lack of progress on other parties being intransigent – ie exactly what they did with the EFA.

    You can see all of these game plays in the financial markets. It is the primary reason that the required reforms have not been applied there in the last 20 years. As long as interested parties have a strong interest in the status quo, they resist change required change, and will drift the systems into meltdown. The National party these days looks a lot like the boneheads that did that to us in the 60’s and 70’s.

  5. lprent 5

    burt: So remind me again who was abusing the trust laws of the 1993 act that were reintroduced into the EFA which was passed under urgency.

    You mean the bill that went through select committee and all stages of parliament so that the public and other parties could have input? The only one that went under urgency was the 3rd stage.

    Now show me where that happened with the “fire at will” bill, the “lets test kiddies” bill, and most of the other shit that went through in December. Point to the stages that were not under urgency and when exactly they went through select committee

    Please try and justify that, while I look up your previous statements on the subject of the uses of urgency. There is an ‘H’ word lurking around my fingers.

  6. burt 6


    How’s that search going? I’ve found a heap of links where ‘burt’ has spoken on “urgency”, I could link a few hundred I like, have you found one you like yet?

  7. lprent 7

    burt: Just a brief search in the 84 pages of your comments.

    Shadbolt jailed for bullshit

    The guilty always accuse the innocent of the things they have either done or wanted to do.

    “ram through whatever they damn well please’ No amount of logic or reason will convince partisan Labour apologists that this is exactly what Labour have been doing for the last few years.

    Retrospective validation – Rammed under urgency.
    EFA – Rammed under urgency.

    Two constitutional level pieces of legislation rammed through in a partisan manner – but hey – it’s National we need to fear – yeah right!

    Perhaps you’d now care to comment on Nationals performance this month? That ‘H’ word is still hovering.

    BTW: Other burt funnies as a predictor

    Time for an upgrade

    Oh well, that’s the end of the standard once the EFB is passed. You will need to publish your full names and residential addresses if you want to post on political issues – perhaps as early as January 1.

    So gullible OK I’ll spell it out. The (cough cough) $2.9b surplus in 2007 will be used to fund $about $2b of tax cuts from 2009 on wards . Treasury forecasts an even bigger surplus next year (2008) and one must asume for 2009 as well. About which time the $2b from 2007 will start to be spent throwing tax cut crumbs to working class scabs.

    The stuff about retrospective legislation was also funny. I must remember to point out the various bits of retrospective legislation that get passed as normal practice by any government.

  8. burt 8


    Incompetent or just undemocratic or both?


    And on a different day under a different bunch of self serving leaders here you are justifying the use of urgency because there was a shortage of time . (Oh: You were also saying the HRC was wrong as well.)

    A change to what?

    So is it really as simple as defend Labour when they do it an slag off National when they do it – do you ever care what they actually do or are you only concerned with who is doing it.

    I’m pissed National are doing this under urgency. See it’s possible to disagree on principle rather than agree on partisan lines.

    Take a look at your finger tips lprent – ahh yes that the target for that “H” word.

    As for the predictors you cite, remember the amendments for blogs after the public consultation that were passed under urgency. Perhaps that “predictor” was foiled by undemocratic unconsulted changes passed under urgency.

  9. burt 9


    I must remember to point out the various bits of retrospective legislation that get passed as normal practice by any government.

    If you can find validations being passed covering 14 years outside of the regular budget cycle (under urgency) from any govt other than Labour please provide a link. I would love to see where else such complete bypass of the Westminster conventions has been used.

  10. lprent 10

    burt: Did you ever read my reply to the one you referenced? Here – read the reply.

    Incompetent or just undemocratic or both?

    Now tell what is the difference between a first and third reading? Are you just avoiding the issue with a spurious reference?

    On your other point, in the Westminster system, have a look at the validating acts of the short and long parliaments prior to and during the Cromwell era. That is at least how long the practice has been in the British Parliament that I know of.

    I’m sure that if I had a look around I could find numerous examples throughout the commonwealth and for that matter NZ. It is an established practices for unforeseen consequences of Acts. For instance the Foreshore and Seabed Act was one such. It was assumed that Queens chain applied. That was in part a financial act because of the compensation issues for lost usage rights. What was that? Over 150 years perhaps.

    Even in the case you like to drone on about – have a look at the parties who voted for it. Which one did you vote for?

    How about actually debating the points rather than jerking off with irrelevant diversions. It is pretty pathetic

  11. vto 11

    good bout of fisticuffs ya ya

    rave reckons .. “Ultimately if you want to stop the game you have to …..”. But there isn’t a game. It is intrinsic human nature and what rave is raving about occurs under all sorts of systems and peopleness. The current meltdown is a reflection of one part of the human character and is near impossible to regulate out.

  12. Chris G 12

    hahah yeh what a laff that was.


    You both get props for givin it a crack.

  13. RedLogix 13

    It is intrinsic human nature and what rave is raving about occurs under all sorts of systems and peopleness.

    Of course we have an evolved mammallian nature. If you’ve ever had to deal with the whole bunch of peculiar behaviours that come out, seemingly from nowhere, when a woman is pregnant our instincts are wholly obvious and undeniable. But I’ve always been very suspicious of the idea that ‘its all just human nature and there is nothing that can be done about it’. Too much like an excuse.

    We also have a rational/moral nature, that according to how well developed and disciplined it is, can and does modify and regulate our ‘instrinsic behaviour’.

    The current meltdown is a reflection of one part of the human character and is near impossible to regulate out.

    After the 1929 meltdown that taught that generation a whole lot of hard lessons, they very successfully regulated out the destructive behaviour which had caused the Great Depression. In particular the Glass-Stearns Act decoupled the banks, investment and insurance industries, so that a failure in one would reduce the chance of total systemic failure. Anti-trust law was strengthened so that no one entity would get ‘too large to fail’. Derivatives were made illegal because they were so dangerous… and a host of similar regulations. FDR’s New Deal dramatically reduced the extreme inequalities of wealth, and set in place a genuine bipartisan understanding of what the ‘American Dream’ should look like.

    All this regulation worked very well for many decades until Reagan began the process of dismantling this understanding, and the current Bush administration completely trashed it. Nothing to do with human nature, and everything to do with a total failure of rational leadership.

  14. burt 14


    burt: Did you ever read my reply to the one you referenced? Here – read the reply.

    Yawn… Yes lprent I even made a comment about that reply. Your selective reference has completely ignored that. If you see that after the reply you posted Robinsod steps in then I reply to the comment you made and suggest I didn’t even read.

    And you call me pathetic !

  15. rave 15


    Failure of reason?

    I don’t agree. Deregulation served the logic of finance capital unable to reproduce itself in productive investment. It needed to speculate and create new bubbles or devalue. It bet on the survival of the fattest.

    Reason at this stage of capitalist evolution is to gamble. The Key actors are reasonable given the social relations they operate in and cannot control.

    The capitalist system itself however is irrational since its drive to accumulate private wealth impoverishes the vast majority of exploited and oppressed.

    New Deal 1 a desperate patchup job that didnt save US capitalism. The Second WW did that. New Deal 2? Even less able to stem the crisis. The irrational system is about to blow us the same way as Israel is blowing Gaza.

  16. vto 16

    Redlogix, you make good points which I agree with to an extent and should have clarified. Especially re human nature as an excuse. Clearly when harm results from a rush of human behaviour, be it mad murder or flailing finance, we do have a moral obligation (and a sheer practical one) to try and weed tht behaviour out, or at least control it to some extent. This I agree with.

    But I still maintain that human exuberance, in this instance first greed and then fear, will flourish in whatever system is in place (plus or minus). It may manifest itself in different ways.

    Just have to watch that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bath water. I do not believe the capitalist system is to blame for the current turmoil – more, as you say, some breakdown at key junctures which now require obvious repair.


  17. burt 17


    Sir Geoffrey Palmer wrote much about the parliamentary law making process and it’s frailties including (but not limited to) the use of urgency. I think once Sir Geoffrey Palmer stood back and looked at it even he, being a previous Labour PM, didn’t think urgency was only a bad thing when National did it.

    If you have read his books you will know what I’m talking about, Matthew Hooton makes reference here;

    The Matthew Hooton Blog : The Case For An Upper House

    When New Zealand moved to MMP in 1993, one of the main motivations was to put a brake on the excesses of the mid 1980s and early ’90s. People were dismayed that proposals could be whipped up one week, rushed through Cabinet the next, drafted as legislation in days and then rammed through parliament under urgency before anyone quite knew what was going on. One of the worst offenders was Sir Geoffrey Palmer, but even he came to lament that New Zealand’s parliament had become “the fastest lawmakers in the West’. As well as wanting a more representative parliament, MMP supporters hoped the new system would lead to a more deliberative and reflective style of lawmaking.

    And the previous point I was making with that was that your language to describe National is remarkably similar to that Matthew uses to describe Labour.

    I agree with both of you – because you are both right.

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