Milken: I was a big fan of Michael Milken in the 1980s but I eventually noticed that his many defenders on the Op-Ed page of the WSJ were making two arguments over and over again:
- What he did that was immoral wasn't illegal.
- And what he did that was illegal wasn't immoral.
I eventually just got tired of arguing both sides and gave up.
That said, Milken, unlike so many others, did serve a stiff sentence for his crimes and has done a lot of philanthropy since he got out of the jug. Further, his titanic career in the 1980s was built on far more than just criminality. His problem was not that he was a bad person but that he lacked the noblesse oblige that his talents demanded. "With great power comes great responsibility" were not the words he lived by. When you are that smart and that energetic (my favorite Milken story is that of the ambitious small-timer who after months of pleading finally got an appointment with Milken at 5:30 am Sunday, only to have Milken call back to say that he just realized that was the Sunday you set the clocks back an hour at the end of Daylight Savings Time, so could they reschedule for 4:30 am?), you have to hold yourself to higher ethical standards than those of ordinary Joes.
Milken is one of the major figures of our time and deserves a major biography by a major biographer. Ron Chernow, that means you!