The Long and Short of It at Goldman Sachs

Published: December 2, 2007
The New York Times Online

“From what I have observed over the years, Goldman has a fascinating culture. It is sort of like what I imagine the culture of the K.G.B. to be. You always put the firm first. The long-ago scandal of the Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation, which raised hundreds of millions just before the crash of 1929 to create a mutual fund, then used the fund’s money to prop up stocks it owned and underwrote, was a particularly sad example. The fund, of course, went bust.

Now, obviously, Goldman Sachs does many fine deals and has many smart, capable people working for it. But it’s not the Vatican. It exists to make money for the partners and (much farther down the line) the stockholders. The people there are not statesmen. They are salesmen.

 To my old eyes, the recent unhappiness about mortgages and Goldman’s connection with them are not examples of sterling conduct. It is bad enough to have been selling this stuff. It is far worse when the sellers were, in effect, simultaneously shorting the stuff they were selling, or making similar bets.

Doesn’t this bear some slight resemblance to Merrill selling tech stocks during the bubble while its analyst Henry Blodget was reportedly telling his friends what garbage they were? How different would it be from selling short the junky stock that your firm is underwriting? And if a top economist at Goldman Sachs was saying housing was in trouble, why did Goldman continue to underwrite junk mortgage issues into the market?

HERE is a query, as we used to say in law school: Should Henry M. Paulson Jr., who formerly ran a firm that engaged in this kind of conduct, be serving as Treasury secretary? Should there not be some inquiry into what the invisible government of Goldman (and the rest of Wall Street) did to create this disaster, which has caught up with some Wall Street firms but not the nimble Goldman?

When the Depression got under way, the government created the Temporary National Economic Committee to study just what had happened on the Street to get the tragedy going. Maybe it’s time for an investigation of just what Wall Street and Goldman did to make money as they pumped this mortgage mess into the economic system, and sometimes were seemingly on both sides of the deal.

Or is Goldman Sachs like “Love Story”? Does working there mean never having to say you’re sorry?”

Ben Stein.