Bintel Blog

L'Affaire Madoff and the 'Enabling Wives'

By Gabrielle Birkner

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In the wake of L’Affaire Madoff, writer Daphne Merkin, the sister of investor J. Ezra Merkin — his Ascot Partners fund had invested most all of its $1.8 billion with Madoff — bemoans in The Daily Beast the general invisibility of women in the world of finance. Without naming names, she writes of the limited role of the “enabling wives who serve as silent business partners or facilitating daughters … serving as an advancing flotilla of social connections.” Discussing her own meager fiscal education, she writes:

“As a daughter, I was raised to know nothing about money. Whenever I tried to ask my father a question on the subject he would respond, “Nu, Daphne? Since when the interest in business?” and shoo me away. … My closest exposure to the world of men and money was at the Jewish charity dinners I would sometimes attend as my father’s escort when my mother didn’t feel like going. At these functions, the men who mattered would often sit on a raised dais while the women sat at round tables below, wearing competitive jewelry and trading off-the-Beltway news. …”

Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme also has Merkin reflecting on the world of Jewish immigrants detailed in Michael Gold’s book “Jews Without Money.”

“[The book] conjured up the ragamuffinish dark-eyed children scampering around the crowded streets of the Lower East Side, the women bent over sewing machines in sweat shops, the men peddling goods or fixing watches. … We are long past such concrete equations, long past the notion that goods and services can hold their own against the making of money off money, endless piles of paper, derivatives, credit default swaps, puts, off-shore accounts and funds of funds. Then again, the entrepreneurial imagination, which grew ever more epic and risk-taking across two decades of deregulation, has always been the primary capitalist trope. Still, does anyone — men, women, gurus, tycoons, Paulson, Perelman — really understand what goes into making billions of dollars, much less losing it all in one fell swoop?”

In addition, The Daily Beast features a delicious passage from Merkin’s novel 1986 novel “Enchantment.” The excerpted scene takes place at a Jewish charity gala that resembles those Merkin attended as a child.


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