A consistent 15% return over 25+ years, without any losses, is impossible without some illegal advantage, such as inside information. Thus, Madoff's investors could not have reasonably believed they were receiving 10 to 15% every year without some insider information. In fact, Madoff's position as Nasdaq chairman probably convinced investors they had access to information no one else did. Click on the link for more.
Madoff's investors should have diversified or at least done more due diligence. Their failure to follow the well-known and cardinal rules of investing--diversify and buy only what you understand--is the sine qua non of their current situation.
Also, most of Madoff's investors were not unsophisticated investors--most were educated, English-speaking, and affluent. This is why Madoff slept soundly at night--in his mind, even if someone invested a million dollars with him, s/he most likely had plenty of money left over. Madoff may have even believed himself to be a modern-day Robin Hood--stealing from the rich to give to the poor and the charities.
At the end of the day, the blame belongs on Madoff and the fiduciaries of charities and other entities who failed to diversify donor and investor money. Rather than excuse negligence, Madoff's investors should serve as an example to those who fail to diversify or who do not question impossible returns. Bailing them out would result in the following:
1. It would tell the world America will print money and devalue the dollar when its citizens--especially the rich and well-connected--make avoidable mistakes. If the Japanese, Chinese, Swiss, and British begin to question the U.S. dollar's integrity, it will be the beginning of the end for our entire country. We have major deficits and are currently dependent on foreign investors to finance our expenditures. When we have a surplus, we can afford to be generous. Right now, we can afford to be sympathetic only with our hearts, not with our wallets.
2. It would weaken faith in our country's sense of fairness. Any time a government gives money away arbitrarily, others not part of the largess rightly cry foul. What about all the other victims of investment fraud, like the Baptist Foundation of Arizona or Sunrise Equities Inc.? What about the mortgage brokers who ripped off ordinary Americans by submitting mortgage applications with false income information? (By the way, where's the perp walk for those people?)
To those of you who say I have no sense of compassion or morality, let me say this: if anyone ought to receive taxpayer money, it should be the families of Americans who were slain in Iraq. They are also victims of government inaction and negligence and have lost more than just money. The list of more deserving victims is endless, but if we go down that path, we will transform America into a land of sympathy-seekers, not strength. For a country that has been the symbol of hope for so many people worldwide, such an image shift is unacceptable.
Although I opposed the auto and bank bailouts, they will help hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans who had little power to avoid their current situation. Auto workers themselves did not cause their current financial mess--the banks, their unions and the Big Three did. In contrast, Madoff's investors failed to do due diligence, failed to diversify, and/or must have believed Madoff had inside information. As a result, they do not have clean hands.
Regulations resulting from the Madoff scandal, if any, should focus on requiring nonprofits and other charities to publicly disclose (preferably on a website) more than just basic financial information. Even in the absence of a law, donors should ask charities and nonprofits to disclose not only their P&L statements and budgets, but also where they are holding donations, and what specific investments they have bought. As long as taxpayer money is not involved, some good may come of this yet.
More on Madoff here:
1. "Capitalism without Failure is like Religion without Sin"
2. The one that started it all: Madoff the SIPC.
3. NY Times mentions Madoff (1/4/09).