Bernie Madoff's Origin Myth

The latest issue of New York has taken a look inside the mind of Bernie Madoff and come up empty. What launched him on the path to a $50 billion Ponzi scheme remains a puzzle.

Yet there are hints. Like many of the men who reshaped Wall Street in the 1960s and '70s, Madoff had a Jewish, working-class background. He fought to overturn a corrupt system that overcharged for trading stocks. "Bernie was the king of democratization," reporter Eric Weiner told New York.

What the New York article hints at, but never spells out: Having seen Wall Street's corruption firsthand, did he figure he might as well take his turn? And did his crime then spiral out of control, until it beggared the wealthy from Manhattan to Palm Beach to Madrid and Singapore, as well as countless charities?

A court-appointed trustee overseeing the dissolution of Madoff's trading empire found that Madoff hadn't conducted trades for customers' accounts for at least 13 years before he was arrested in December, even as he was sending out fictionalized statements.

In 2002, Charles Schwab and Goldman Sachs were reportedly interested in buying the company for as much as $1 billion. But the fraud had already gone on too long. Opening up his books for a sale would have unveiled it. We know why Madoff couldn't stop. But we still can't fathom why he began. Perhaps we'll never know. Perhaps Madoff himself can't explain it.