Capitalism, Kinship, and Fraud

The Case of Bernie Madoff

in Social Analysis
Author:
Sherry B. Ortner Professor, UCLA, USA sortner@anthro.ucla.edu

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Abstract

Investment broker Bernie Madoff ran what is still considered the largest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding thousands of investors over a 20-year period of more than $20 billion. He worked his game almost entirely through kinship connections—relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of friends. The relationship between kinship and capitalism has drawn renewed attention by anthropologists, part of a broader effort to rethink capitalism not as a free-standing ‘economy’ but as deeply embedded in a wide range of social relations. In this article I use the Madoff case to illustrate, and develop further, several aspects of the kinship/capitalism connection. I also consider briefly the boundary between fraud and ‘legitimate’ capitalism, which many economic historians consider a fuzzy boundary at best.

Contributor Notes

Sherry B. Ortner is a Distinguished Research Professor of Anthropology at UCLA. She has done extensive research with the Sherpas of Nepal, and her final book on the Sherpas, Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering (1999), was awarded the prestigious J. I. Staley Prize for the best book in anthropology in 2004. More recently she has been conducting research in the US, including a study of her high school graduating class, New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of ’58 (2003), and of the world of independent film, Not Hollywood: Independent Film at the Twilight of the American Dream (2013). She also contributes regularly to discussions and debates in social, cultural, and feminist theory. E-mail: sortner@anthro.ucla.edu

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Social Analysis

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