Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Vampire Squid and The Morgue

Two of the biggest swinging dick firms that still remain in the once vaunted Wall Street arena are Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. Over the last forty eight hours, in what strikes this onlooker as something of a fantastic temporal correlation, two public testimonials have appeared that excoriate the two aforesaid firms for profoundly unethical- or, perhaps more properly, thoroughly immoral- conduct. Unless you have lived under a very large and non porous rock for several years, if not longer, the perfidy of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan hardly comes as news. However, one devoutly hopes that whatever the intentions are of the authors of these very public jeremiads-more on that shortly- their damning admissions of (non specified) criminality will, in time, represent something of a watershed event.

In the meantime, pardon me if I detect the not so faint whiff of a rat, especially where the Goldman revelations are concerned. Greg Smith, the former Goldman Executive, makes various claims regarding the true nature of his erstwhile firm. Unfortunately a number of them strain credulity, not the least of which is that, in the not so distant past, Goldman Sachs operated at the highest levels of ethical conduct, systematically choosing "to do the right thing" in its dealings with its clients and other business partners. This will no doubt be news to folks such as Matt Taibbi, who, approximately two years ago, famously dubbed Goldman Sachs The Vampire Squid in response to their numerous misdeeds going back generations. How is it possible that such longstanding and systematic vile behavior, so well chronicled by Mr. Taibbi, has only recently become known to Mr. Smith? What's more, where is the evidence of the culture of do gooding that Mr. Smith purports to have, until only relatively recently, been subverted? To encapsulate, the New York Times op-ed written by Mr. Smith almost seems like a clever recasting of the essence of Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs is not the instinctively rapacious firm we thought (we knew) it was, but, rather, an avuncular outfit that lost its way due to some poor stewardship by CEO Lloyd "We're doing God's work" Blankfein who allowed a few- or maybe a few more than a few-bad apples to spoil what once was a bastion of rectitude. We can only hope that (should this be a very clever attempt to take pressure off Goldman by having a critical number of the public now believe that by dint of a few key firings The Vampire Squid can be transformed into a -name your favorite warm and fuzzy creature) such a gambit will fail. In the meantime, as always, we would do well to be more than a little reticent to buy whatever Goldman, or even a self professed, disaffected, ex Goldman man, is selling.