Greg Smith vs. Goldman Sachs

by | Mar 27, 2012

Just now I can’t summon the energy to write the post that should be written to defend Goldman Sachs against the disgusting, publicity-seeking attack made on it last week by ex-employee Greg Smith. (Mr. Smith was not highly placed at the firm: he was one of 12,000 “vice-presidents.”) His attack came in the form of […]

Just now I can’t summon the energy to write the post that should be written to defend Goldman Sachs against the disgusting, publicity-seeking attack made on it last week by ex-employee Greg Smith. (Mr. Smith was not highly placed at the firm: he was one of 12,000 vice-presidents.)

His attack came in the form of an op-ed in the NY Times. That is significant, because I noted back in April of 2009 that the Times had targeted Goldman. As I posted here on August 5, 2009:

In a Twitter tweet back on April 17, I said With today’s 3rd article attacking Goldman Sachs, it seems the NY Times is running a campaign against them. Because of their virtues. The obedient Leftist masses picked up the campaign. New York Magazine has a cover story attacking Goldman (I won’t read it, but I’m told it’s vile). How low can they go? The Post reports: A Rolling Stone article referred to the firm as ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.’

Mr. Smith’s motivation? Based on the article alone, I suspect two things: 1. he wants his five minutes of fame—damn the consequences, 2. more importantly: he is an altruist, and accordingly he holds that money-making is either degraded or evil.

On the altruism point, Mr. Smith’s op-ed says this:

after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on.

Here’s the whole vampire squid sentence from Rolling Stone:

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.

Attacks like that are supposed to generate humility?! What does that say about Mr. Smith’s premises (and character)?

Mr. Smith relates in great detail how he used to be proud to work at Goldman. What changed? He says it was the firm. I say it was social pressure. You can’t hold your head high when that august publication Rolling Stone is comparing you to a blood-sucking parasite.

As to the merits of the issue, we have to ask ourselves whether it is likely that the firm became more callous toward their customers after being attacked for just that alleged failing. Actually, if you recall, the head of the firm, Lloyd Blankfein, immediately began to retreat in the face of the attacks. Look what I reported in my 2009 post:

The front page of today’s NY Post screamed Silence is Goldman. The story is about how Lloyd Blankfein, the firm’s head, has told Goldman employees to, in the Post’s wording, avoid making big-ticket, high-profile purchases as the gold-plated Wall Street firm hunkers down [!] amid a firestorm of public and political anger over outside bonus payments.

The headline on the page 6 follow-on is: Goldman Princes Told: Spend Like Paupers.

This is the same suicidal strategy tried by the Jews during the rise of Nazism: keep a low profile, don’t attract attention, be a good German. It will produce, in principle if not in concrete form, the same results for GS. [And hasn’t it?]

Blankfein is asking his employees to respond to vilification by acting as though they are guilty. What more could the Leftists ask? Goldman has given them a loud mea culpa.

The tragic and ugly part is that he didn’t need to tell them—most of them, like all businessmen, already feel guilty for the sin of wealth-creation.

The Post story quotes an unnamed Goldman executive as saying, This is a sensitive time for us, and [Blankfein] wants to make sure that we’re not being seen living high on the hog.

In the Wall St. Journal, columnist Holman Jenkins penned a defense of Goldman which, though non-fundamental and far too mild, had a good piece of analysis:

Greg Smith, the junior Goldman Sachs executive who resigned his job this week on the op-ed page of the New York Times, produced a seminal moment in media silliness. Sentences like this don’t happen by accident: I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. Professions of honesty should invite skepticism in any case, but especially when peddling a sentence so clearly designed to say nothing while appearing very much to say something. I can honestly say I’m as tall as I’ve ever been, and yet I have provided no testable statement about how tall I am.

Jenkins concludes:

Mr. Smith’s Goldman vilification is just the standard Wall Street vilification focused unjustly on a single name.

Yes, but justice depends upon your standard of value. And that’s the larger issue here: is money-making good or evil?

I side with Lloyd Blankfein who, in an unguarded moment, spoke from his sense of life in the statement that shocked the altruists: We’re doing God’s work.

Mr. Blankfein is known to have a wry sense of humor, and I’m sure that humor was serving there as a cover for saying what he must know: Goldman Sachs is making money by bettering man’s life on this earth.

Full disclosure: I have several friends and acquaintances at Goldman, and I have some money in one of their mutual funds. I used to own Goldman Sachs stock, but when I saw the nature of leftist campaign being waged against them, and their inability to withdraw the sanction of the victim, I sold it all.

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Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

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