I don't really understand why we're paying so much attention to Bernard Madoff.

Oh sure, sure, if the charges are accurate, the collapse of his Ponzi scheme might just put him in the Fraud Hall of Fame.

But he'll have plenty of company. In the world of finance, however, it's probably more accurate to say he will achieve new heights in the realm of ILLEGAL fraud.

As we're discovering, almost the entire economy is the moral equivalent of a Ponzi scheme.

Hyperbole? Well, let's see:

While the operating details may be different — somewhat, anyway — it's undeniable that much of our financial and industrial structure is a pyramid based on a phantom foundation.

It has been constructed by opportunists who were such con artists they didn't care whether it ultimately imploded, as long as they got theirs.

Or so inept they had no business around the building.

Or worse, the people who adopted the "get along-go along" approach to success — never going against the grain, no matter what.

Those may be the most corrupt of all, since their expedient "make no waves" mentality was at the very least amoral, which is another way of saying immoral.

By the way, that would include the politicians who looked the other way so they could either get the crumbs in the form of campaign contributions, or because raising a stink was simply too much of a hassle.

Now that the chickens have come home to roost, the home has caved in.

There are important differences between Madoff and the others:

First of all, he has not had the chutzpah to ask for a multibillion-dollar loan to bail him out. At least so far.

Secondly, a sizable chunk of those who have been harmed by his enterprise are the prosperous, or soon-to-be-formerly prosperous.

The rest of the financial schemes have damaged or destroyed the well-being of nearly everyone — rich, poor and somewhere in between.

As we clean up this mess, we need to go beyond oversight regulation. It is essential that we write into the law prohibitions that drag a lot of these shady dealings and their dealers across that narrow line that separates barely legal and illegal.

In other words, we need to call all this larcenous conduct what it is: a crime.

Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.