Jeffrey Epstein Was the Monster Capitalism Made

A new book with fresh details about Jeffrey Epstein — his life, death, and relationship with Bill Clinton — reminds us that Epstein’s crimes couldn’t have happened without a system that allowed him to hoard unlimited wealth.

A protest group called "Hot Mess" hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Stephanie Keith / Getty

At the center of the sordid tale of Jeffrey Epstein lies a single, glaring truth: Epstein could never have done the unspeakable things he did if he hadn’t existed in a world that allowed him to amass unlimited wealth.

That’s not the argument of Alana Goodman and Daniel Halper’s A Convenient Death: The Mysterious Demise of Jeffrey Epstein, part of a spate of new reporting on Epstein’s life, crimes, and outlandish death. As reporters for the right-wing Washington Examiner and various conservative media before that, it’s unlikely that the authors were aiming to write a parable about the perils of concentrated wealth in the hands of amoral financiers and the need to redistribute it.

Rather, Goodman and Halper have produced a well-reported, down-the-line book on the Epstein saga, a story that, by its very nature, makes that case for them. The story of Epstein and his crimes is impossible to untangle from the matter of wealth and power: who has it, who doesn’t, what they’ll do to get it, and the terrible things they can do once they have it.

Epstein himself was New Money, his drive for riches fueled, the authors report, by bitter memories of a dreary upbringing in an immigrant family “firmly on the lower end of the middle class.” As they and other recent Epstein-centric media argue, these working-class roots drove Epstein to craft a lifestyle of gleaming luxury for himself, and made his eventual imprisonment in a rat-and-roach-infested Manhattan jail particularly traumatic.

As we now know all too well, Epstein used his charm, charisma, and lack of ethical scruples to springboard himself out of the low-income trap — having dropped out of college and found himself working as a roofer — and into a teaching position at a preppy high school he wasn’t remotely qualified for, one he used as another stepping stone into the world of the elite. After that, it was only a few rungs more before Epstein had his hands on the near-limitless fountain of cash he soon used to construct the sexual pyramid scheme that structured his days, waving around the money he had always craved to lure young girls who had none of it.

Money and wealth explain virtually every facet of Epstein’s crimes. How did he get away with these schemes for years under the noses of the Palm Beach Police Department, eventually escaping with barely a slap on the wrist? It may have helped that he had given the department and the city government tens of thousands of dollars, and hired a top prosecutor’s husband as his attorney. How did he avoid even media scrutiny for as long he did? Epstein paid for glowing coverage that oversold his philanthropy, and dangled job offers in front of journalists. The evisceration of the now-defunct muckraking website Gawker at the hands of billionaire Peter Thiel made it even harder to report on him, argues one reporter, whose salacious, on-the-record piece about Epstein, his alleged co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell, and an unnamed billionaire, died at the hands of legal threats by the latter.

Money and wealth also explain Epstein’s infamous network of relationships. We already know how the prospect of loose millions dropping from Epstein’s pockets drew scientists and intellectuals to his amateur salons (“What does that got to do with pussy!?” were among Epstein’s contributions to these intellectual soirées). And we also know the role money played in Epstein’s friendship with Prince Andrew, who begged the pedophile financier to help bail out his debt-ridden ex-wife. So, too, does it explain his connection to Bill Clinton, who had privately made known his intent to “spend roughly half my time making money” after leaving the presidency, and whose Global Initiative at the Clinton Foundation, the authors report, may have gotten its seed funding from Epstein.

In fact, it’s the reporting on Clinton’s Epstein-related misadventures that may well draw the most interest in the book (and so far already has). Goodman and Halper tease out new details about the two men’s relationship, demystifying it in a way that is both damning and exonerating for the former president. On the one hand, multiple sources suggest Clinton wasn’t having underage sex around Epstein. On the other, the reason he was hanging around the pedophile is little better for a man who continues to be one of the Democratic Party’s leading lights: he was having an affair with Maxwell, the woman who procured and abused girls with Epstein. That this revelation might actually somewhat improve his public standing after years of speculation speaks to the legendarily bad judgment and greed of the former president.

Readers of the book will find plenty more details about the two men’s friendship that reflect poorly on the former president, including the possibility, supported by circumstantial evidence, that it was his former national security advisor who tipped Epstein off to an impending police raid in 2005, allowing him to spirit away his computers and other electronics off the property before the authorities came knocking. Suffice it to say, Goodman and Halper, together with Netflix’s new Epstein documentary, give a fairly definitive debunking to Clinton’s overwrought denials insisting not just that he didn’t know about Epstein’s crimes, but that he barely knew the man at all — honest! Nonetheless, just as we saw with Russiagate’s embarrassing flop in 2019, these expositions serve as a useful reminder that reality is often at least a degree or two more banal than the sometimes-wild conclusions that scraps of evidence seem to point to.

This is also a worthwhile lesson when it comes to the mystery at the center of the book and, in retrospect, Epstein’s life: why and how he died. Anyone looking for a definitive answer to whether Epstein was killed by his own hand or someone else’s won’t find it here — indeed, it’s unlikely they’ll find it anywhere. But Goodman and Halper comprehensively lay out the facts of Epstein’s incarceration and death, devoting ample time to multiple theories.

There’s more than enough reason to believe Epstein may have marshalled his considerable resources to escape justice by killing himself, from his documented fear and unhappiness at the prospect of a life in squalid captivity, to changing his will in the eleventh hour, and the fact that he had already finagled some special privileges while in prison. There’s even evidence that Epstein may have viewed attempting suicide as a gambit to get transferred out of the facility. Still, too much exists to swallow the official story, from the series of mistakes and coincidences that gave Epstein the breathing room to die with no witnesses or surveillance footage, to the unusual — to say the least — autopsy results and treatment of the crime scene, to Epstein’s determination to fight the case, and various other inconsistencies.

One thing seems clear: whether it was negligence or foul play, keeping Epstein alive was far from a priority for many powerful people, given not just what he knew, but what was almost certainly a sprawling blackmail operation he was running. If the ruling class had wanted him alive, Epstein probably would still be here today.

Just look at how Chelsea Manning, who committed a crime the US power elite actually cared about —publicly revealing American war crimes — was placed on round-the-clock suicide watch from almost the moment she was arrested, locked for twenty-three-and-a-half hours a day in a tiny concrete hole with only a mirror, a lamp, and anti-suicide smock, stripped of all of her clothes, even her underwear and flip-flops, lest they be used in exactly the way Epstein allegedly used his clothing and bedding to off himself. Yes, they wanted her to suffer, but they also wanted to see her convicted in court, and they took no chances. Epstein didn’t get the same treatment because at the end of the day, the people who run the world didn’t care if — or perhaps even prayed that — he wouldn’t make it that far.

There is only one definitive conclusion the authors come to: “We don’t need to know what happened to know we’ve probably been lied to.” With Epstein gone, it’s now with his soul mate and alleged co-conspirator Maxwell that any further answers lie, though don’t hold your breath: if she is ever taken into custody, it’s not hard to imagine history repeating itself.

Without answers, there will be no end to speculation about the truth of Epstein’s life and death, and the true scale, depth, and nature of the criminal operation he was running. Whatever scenario you conjure, however outlandish, banal, or sinister it might be, never forget it could only be possible thanks to the economic and political system that Epstein — and all of us — were born into, but never asked for.