The Flinchum File

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Lessons Not Learned From TV

Other than business shows and news shows, there is little I watch on television.  However, in 2007, I became fascinated by a show on CNBC called American Greed.  It described true stories about how innocent people got cheated, usually by a financial advisor running a Ponzi scheme.  At first, I was amazed that investors didn’t realize how essential a custodian is, to independently hold the assets managed by the financial advisors and to prepare honest financial statements, which are sent directly to the investor.  But soon, it became tiring to watch the same mistake repeated over and over, and I stopped watching.

A few years later, I started watching it again.  This time, I became focused on the financial advisor and occasionally researched the advisor after the show, to see if there were any clues to predicting their dishonesty but never found any meaningful clues.  Again, it soon became tiring — watching financial advisors doing the same dishonest things, and I stopped watching.

Recently, I returned to the program . . . for the last time, hopefully.  This time, I was struck by the asymmetry of punishment.  Most of the victims were damaged for the remainder of their lives.  In addition, their children and grandchildren were cheated out of their inheritance.  Yet, most of the criminals received only 8 to 14 years of prison time.  They will be out of prison while their victims are still suffering.  There is something patently unfair about this!

But, what is the point of locking up everybody forever, especially at a cost of $50 thousand per year per inmate?  The taxpayers also become victims.  Existentialists argue that modern society is overly-reverent about life under any and all circumstances.  There has to be a point where the benefit of life outweighs the cost of maintaining it, but where is that point and who gets to decide?

How about putting the death penalty for dishonest financial advisors on the ballot, for everybody to vote?  If so, I’ll be going door-to-door soliciting votes for passage!

Let us vote!