What Was Madoff Thinking?

Josephson said in case of an extreme Ponzi scheme scam artist, there are certain behaviors that fall into psychological "themes."

"From my perspective ... in my field we have a lot of labels that try to help us understand and study human behavior," said Josephson. "Although people don't fit neatly on the boxes, Madoff has certain themes."

Josephson said those "themes" include narcissism, which breeds a grandiose sense of self, greed and a lack of remorse.

"I would imagine that he's probably quite narcissistic," he said.

"Everybody has a personality, but when you take it to an extreme then you have a personality disorder," said Josephson.

Disturbing Thoughts at The Top

Among scam artists of Madoff's scale, Josephson said he can see "themes" of behavior of antisocial personalities.

"You have this other thing called antisocial personality disorder," he said. "These are people who break the law. Typically they lack remorse."

However, for all the "themes," Josephson said he has seen a cultural shift since practicing therapy in 1978 that also contributed to all the recent crimes.

"There are definitely people with money who deal with it in a generous way," he said. "It's not money that's the problem, it's values."

Josephson said he's noticed that across the board, both poor and rich, his clients have put more and more emphasis on money than on community values or even a sense of self. He said this culture has only rewarded and enabled people at the upper echelons to put money first.

"Money has become equated [with] power," he said. "Look, if you have a large sum of money, and even if you obtained it in an unethical way, you'll be welcome in the homes of politicians, in clubs, at events."

In Washington, D.C., Douglas LaBier has been a business psychologist and psychotherapist for senior executives in corporations for decades.

Like Josephson, LaBier sees the heads of these Ponzi schemes as extreme examples of a cultural problem.

"It's a continuum and more extreme at the executive end," said LaBier, who is president of Center for Adult Development in Washington.

"You're in that stratosphere and everything you stand for is your career," said LaBier. "If your identity is so wrapped up in your career, when that starts to unravel, there's no grounding and you're in quicksand."

LaBier said he's seen a "careerist" culture blossom in past decades that connected a person's value to their job. While everyone may become party to it, the more success one has, the more danger they are in to only identify with that success, and protect it with questionable actions.

"It's for any individual. He [Madoff] is not in a vacuum. He's reflecting a larger culture," said LaBier. "It took the form of money because that's the arena he's in. ... but the personal collapse, the sense of who you are, gets destroyed."

But Minkow said he does't buy the identity connection. When asked if he had to reassess his identity after his fall, Minkow responded quite simply: "No."

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