When Vampire Squids Become Cannibals
In case you missed it, last Wednesday Greg Smith, a Goldman Sachs executive, resigned. Actually it was really no big deal, except while he was on his way out the door, he burned his bridges and then strafed the wounded.
Mr. Smith publicly nuked Goldman Sachs in a scathing op-ed article in The New York Times that left many holding their hands up high and shouting “Alleluia.”
Last Wednesday began the same as many of the most recent monotonous mid-week editions of the end of winter blues as our nation’s wounded business and financial community continues to snort and bellow while it tries to extricate itself from an economic tar pit and in the process, try not to pee all over itself anymore than it already has.
The European sovereign debt crisis continues to languish in the markets like a bad hangover and economic public policy, especially unchecked profligate U.S. sovereign spending and debt, continue as troublesome issues. And where there is a financial cesspool, one can count on Goldman Sachs merrily swimming with the rest of the bottom-feeders and leaches.
So, as one may imagine, a headline like “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” caught my eye.
Goldman Sachs, the venerable ginormous, intergalactic investment banking, financial services and securities firm has arguably found itself in the caustic crosshairs of public scrutiny more in the past several years than at any other time in its storied history that goes back to 1869.
Over the years, many former employees have moved on to hold key and critical public policy leadership positions in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Included among the distinguished alumni are former U.S. Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin – and notably, the current prime minister of Italy, Mario Monti.
Goldman Sachs became familiar to even the most financially disinclined in the fall of 2007 when it was identified in the press as being one the bad financial actors in the growing sub-prime mortgage economic turmoil.
In 2008 the firm accepted a $10 billion bailout from the U.S. government in the controversial Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
Of course, the irony of Goldman Sachs being saved by ‘Main Street’ and ‘mom and pop’ taxpayers is that the rapaciously predatory financial services firm has opportunistically taken advantage of many firms – and individuals – over the years who found themselves indisposed as a result of the reversal of luck and the vagaries of the market.
One need not wonder aloud what would have happened if the shoe were on the other foot. You may have counted on Goldman Sachs to have gleefully benefited while it sucked the bone marrow out of its financial victim. A special bonus would have been awarded to the Goldman Sachs executive who put the most women and children on the street.
Many continue to resolutely believe that this firm should have been allowed to die a slow and painful death, in part for its karma, famously coined as ‘a great vampire squid’ by Matt Taibbi in the July 9, 2009, issue of Rolling Stone and reprinted April 5, 2010:
“The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.”
In spite of the notion that many vicariously enjoyed what Catherine Rampell called in The New York Times last Friday, “one of the most spectacular exits Wall Street has ever seen,” it was cringe-worthy and ultimately quite sad.
“Why did his story hit such a nerve? Many of us have, at one time or another, longed to tell the boss where to go,” said Ms. Rampell.
However, many others with whom I spoke about the public resignation reacted as I did and inserted the names of several vampire squids, with which we have conducted business within the last several years.
Moreover, many identified with what MSNBC and Center for Public Integrity analyst Wendell Potter wrote in the Huffington Post:
“As I was reading former Wall Street executive Greg Smith's bombshell of an Op-Ed in the New York Times last week, I mentally inserted the names of the big for-profit health insurers … place of Goldman Sachs, where Smith worked until resigning on the day his column was published.”
Last Wednesday, Nelson D. Schwartz wisely observed in The New York Times, “Even bankers who disagreed with Mr. Smith’s conclusions said the piece had struck a chord because it stirred up their own doubts, especially in the wake of the financial crisis. It is a sign of this anxiety that since then, one giant firm after another has publicly proclaimed it is putting clients first.”
Mr. Schwartz framed the takeaway issues well. “At meetings at Goldman, (Mr. Smith) wrote, ‘not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients… It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.’
“He warned, ‘People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm – or the trust of its clients – for very much longer.’ ”
One of the biggest casualties of the last five years is difficult to measure or quantify and that is the complete breakdown of the basic social contract between consumers and big business: trust.
Speaking for myself, in recent years, I have come to absolutely not trust a single thing that my cable provider, my telephone company, or my big regional bank says or writes.
… I’m just saying…