Last night, Jon Stewart , host of the Daily Show , interviewed Bethany McLean , a contributing editor of Vanity Fair about the current economic crisis. Stewart opined that while we can understand the Madoff fraud, it is much harder to wrap our heads around the economic meltdown. Jon Stewart commented that money seemed to disappear in this crisis, and wondered how it could be recovered. This got me thinking. I coined the term Wicked Tangle, after the term wicked problems. I define a wicked tangle as a multi-system tangle that involves challenges without definitions and boundaries. Everything is intertwined, and the solution to one part of the challenge creates problems elsewhere. The Feds give money to the banks and the banks tighten their lending policies. You can never truly solve a wicked tangle. What differentiates a wicked tangle from a wicked problem is that the human dynamics of greed, ego, and lack of transparency both create and exacerbate wicked tangles.
In the past week, I have been repulsed by news of one of the biggest scams of all time. Bernard Madoff, head of Bernard L. Madoff Securities, allegedly conned scores of wealthy investors, lulled by promises of higher than average yearly returns. Madoff was the CEO of a company with over 200 employees. We don't yet have all of the facts. However, what is remarkable to me is that so many, including Madoff employees, did not question consistent financial returns that defy explanation. How could so many allegedly smart people believe that there are special algorithms that are immune from market forces? And how could so many ignore the red flags of a leader who became gruff and angry when questioned about his strategies?
Today's Wall Street Journal headline story outlines the case of Illinois Governor Rod. R. Blagojovich . The chief executive of the state of Illinois was arrested today for attempting to sell President-elect Obama's Illinois Senate seat. He was also charged with conspiring to bribe others and committing mail and wire fraud. Federal authorities also allege that the governor attempted to bribe the head of Children's Memorial Hospital in exchange for state funding. Further, the FBI alleges that the governor wanted Chicago Tribune reporters who were critical of him to be removed in exchange for a speedier sale of Wrigley Field.