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A Vampire Squid with Muppets
March 14, 2012 2:41 AM   Subscribe

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs. New York Time Op-Ed. March 14th 2012:
TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

Greg Smith, an executive director at Goldman Sachs announces his resignation from the company in an op-ed for the NY Times, effective today:
It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.
posted by Skygazer (150 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
I suspect there's a story behind the story here. Something doesn't feel right.

I'm certainly not saying that what he says isn't true, I think it's more "a tiger doesn't change it's stripes" thing for me.
posted by HuronBob at 2:56 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


The tone of this article feels more like a commercial for Mr. Smith than a scathing indictment of the financial industry: e.g. "Virtuous leaders (like the kind I would clearly be) would solve all these problems through better morals, not regulation"
posted by Chekhovian at 2:56 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how much money they make for the firm. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain this firm — or the trust of its clients — for very much longer

Leadership should be about creating a vision and helping your team work towards it. It's not much of a vision if all you're doing is creating a morally corrupt culture that does nothing to benefit your customers or society at large.
posted by arcticseal at 2:57 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since when did "I am leaving organisation X and here is why ::goes in great depth of percieved organisation faults::", become a *thing* ?

I've seen Techcruch, and Google, and now G Sachs related posts all in the Blue this past year.

Why can't people just quit without crowing about it?

Or is this something you just have to be within a certain high tax bracket of salary to understand?
posted by Faintdreams at 2:58 AM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


What's missing is "I went to my boss/the boss' boss, and raised these issues, and...".

This may have happened and he didn't write about it. Or he may not have done this, for good but unstated reasons. Or he may not have done it, full stop.

That's a shame, as it weakens the story and leaves GS with an obvious riposte that the guy was a disaffected square peg who wasn't having a good time and blamed that on others. Which may or may not be true: I certainly have no problem believing that corporate culture can be perverted like that. I also have no problem believing that this is a self-serving squawk from a guy who was one step from being booted out anyway. Without more information, it's very hard to tell and one tends to believe what one wants to believe.

(I do have some problems believing that the ethical, customer based GS that he describes from when he joined was ever the same GS that Mark Taibbi has written about, but there are other possibilities there - a very large company can have wildly differing cultures in different parts of its empire, but the fault lines do eventually shear.)
posted by Devonian at 3:15 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


He says he "doesn't know of anything illegal", however such egregious breach of fiduciary duty as he alleges surely would be illegal ... surely?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:20 AM on March 14, 2012


Oh great...NYT is publishing job flame-out letters by over privileged execs. My life is now complete.

I guess there is not enough important stuff to be printed to fit these days by the grey lady.
posted by lampshade at 3:20 AM on March 14, 2012 [15 favorites]


It's my impression--and I may well be wrong and/or naive--that the people who choose some sort of public forum for discussing their reasons for quitting are the people who were highly invested in their company and who are genuinely frustrated by the directions that they see their companies pursuing. I'm inclined to mistrust bankers who write op-eds for the NYT, but in the case of high profile tech people (and in a few other instances in my local circle, political workers or reporters), I get the strong feeling that they don't know where else to turn to mourn something they once believed in. Hell, I've considered writing similar things about business school and working in accounting, and I've known from the start I'd probably be disillusioned.

I appreciate the inside view, even from an unreliable narrator.
posted by Phire at 3:26 AM on March 14, 2012 [26 favorites]


I didn't even need to RTFA (although I did). My high-school boyfriend went on to became a fabulously-successful international banker.

He even used the term 'muppets' in our email exchanges.

It didn't make him happy. He described it as soul-sucking work. He's still not happy, despite being head-hunted and eagerly sought after by other soul-sucking companies, but he has a family to support who have become accustomed to the massive income.

Sometimes people are compelled to do stuff for reasons the rest of us don't understand. And my heart breaks when I think that this guy and I could have had a fabulous life together, but he was compelled to make millions while sacrificing his soul. Meanwhile, I'm broke, but the fun I have with my kids and family is priceless.

Michael, I wish you'd resisted the temptation of a massive salary (and bonuses), and stayed home. And I bet you wish the same.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:26 AM on March 14, 2012 [27 favorites]


I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail

That's the best reason to leave Goldman Sachs. I mean "muppets". Really? What is this, 1980? How out of touch do you have to be to come up with a reference like that?

I won't even go near a firm that can't use "muggle" as a reference.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:32 AM on March 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Why can't people just quit without crowing about it?

What happened to not burning your bridges? Would you employ this guy knowing he will op-ed your failings when he quits? He must think there's more utility in selling himself through this article.
posted by panaceanot at 3:38 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I admire Smith's words, but he's clearly padding his future. How many people who quit from frustration with the bankrupt moral (and often, financial) culture of their firm have an opportunity to crow about it in a NYT Op-Ed, and boosting their reputation with contemporaries?

The thing that gets glossed over in Smith's piece is what a bunch of morally bankrupt people have come on with Goldman-Sachs in the first place - i.e. privileged upper-middle-class sociopaths from places like Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Yale, Brown, the London School of Economics and a host of other "elite" institutions. A hasty generalization? Maybe, but I doubt it. Screw every one of these people, and their "mentors" who have entered the morally bankrupt "profession" of financial arbitrage and used their talent to manipulate everything from housing costs, fuel prices, labor markets - you name it.

Every single primary problem that this good earth is currently suffering from stems from the abuse - and insider control - of national and international financial systems. We're talking about lack of good health care; food shortages; WAR; grinding poverty; sweatshop labor; unsafe water supplies; generalized pollution; cruelty to animals in food production (leading to mutant viruses); crappy education for the masses; and so on.

This is not due to any secret or even generalized conspiracy; it's rather due to the short-sightedness of our species (a potential poison pill, embedded in our DNA) and the seeming inability of people even in the most democratic of cultures to get a grip on how their behavior is causing a general decline in human empathy, even as unbalanced and unchecked competition destroys their future.

Aside, about war: there is good evidence that violence, over time, is trending down (even though there is still more than enough to go around). That's a good thing. Also, increased transparency, forced by an increasingly transparent Internet (alongside new threats to that transparency) seem to be driving positive efforts for change in other sectors; change is slow and coming, but on a positive trajectory.

The forward path is about finding reasonable balances among cooperation (and empathic drive) and competition (a self-interested, aggressive drive). The word is still out.

All said, the sooner that the cultures of places like Goldman-Sachs go the way of the dinosaur, the better. One reason for concern: these financial institutions, and the political institutions that they impact (Goldman-Sachs was Obama's major corporate bundler in 2008). Ever wonder why none of those bankers are in jail?

Good for Smith for making his case; he's probably a very wealthy guy by now, and can leave without fear of where his next meal is coming from. However, the many industries and human lives that Goldman-Sachs investment strategies helped to gut during the "better for our client" days at Goldman-Sachs are still there, littering the field of human tragedy. No doubt Smith's clients had a hand in unwittingly make that happen (wealthy people are not bad people, but too often their wealth is gained by processes that they are unaware of, and impacts that they are unaware of - and, when they are made aware, there is too-often, too-little done about it...riding around in one's Bentley has a way of isolating one from the everyday).

The thing that's missing from Smith's little piece is that Smith's clients may not be getting the same service they used to get form his now-former employer, but most of them are not hurting in a general sense - not in the ways that the manipulation of their wealth by Goldman's whoring culture is hurting the less fortunate citizens of our world. And so it goes...

What remains is unsaid subtext, from the point of view of the common person (decidedly not a member of Goldman-Sach's elite club of clients) - i.e. how Goldman-Sachs clients's profits unwittingly resulted in their fellow humans' tragedy - at scale - even when they those clients were being "treated well" during Smith's and Goldman-Sachs more salad days. In sum, it doesn't get Smith entirely off the hook, because in the "old days" Smith helped his clients set up infrastructures that are in place today, ripping and shredding human futures.

In all, I wish Smith well. In all, I hope that we can look back in 50 years and see a more transparent functioning of international arbitrage, with the cost of that arbitrage built into balance sheets. Will that happen? We'll see.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:43 AM on March 14, 2012 [31 favorites]


And you crow about your fucking ping pong medal? Asshole.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:44 AM on March 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail.

Dammit, Smith, you've lost us the Henson account!
posted by chavenet at 3:50 AM on March 14, 2012 [48 favorites]


It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients
Bwaaa hahahaha oh lord, stop, please, you're killing me.
posted by mattoxic at 3:50 AM on March 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


Since when did "I am leaving organisation X and here is why ::goes in great depth of percieved organisation faults::", become a *thing* ?
Canaries.

Watch out for those naked flames people.
posted by fullerine at 3:59 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The best take on this I've read comes from the Daily Mash
posted by Gilgongo at 4:08 AM on March 14, 2012 [30 favorites]


He's just blowing his own trumpet, which doesn't strike me as a particularly ethical or disinterested thing to do.

His former colleagues at Goldman Sachs may indeed care a lot more about themselves than about their clients, but there's nothing in that piece that leads me to believe that he's any different. Indeed, his gratuitous mention of the "proudest moments" in his life (including his tennis table bronze medal at the Maccabiah Games, no less), leads me to think that he isn't entirely devoid of an ego.
posted by Skeptic at 4:08 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


What happened to not burning your bridges? Would you employ this guy knowing he will op-ed your failings when he quits?

I'm guessing, as a former director at Goldman Sachs, he doesn't really need employment.
posted by vacapinta at 4:17 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


As much as I wanted this to be an insider going on a rampage, it just doesn't ring right. As has been said, it sounds like he's advertising to all his clients that he's setting out on his own and he won't call you a muppet in an email, no sir, come over to his righteous investment fund, with no muppets whatsoever.

The other thing is 12 years? 12 years? Goldman Sachs went from being basically the Mother Theresa of Finance to Darth Vader in 12 years? We're 5 years after the credit crunch FFS, what has he been doing in that time? Playing ping pong? Maybe if he was talking about 35 years I could see a change in "culture" being as astronomical as he describes but, alas, not.
posted by criticalbill at 4:19 AM on March 14, 2012 [20 favorites]


Since when does the NYT put press releases on the op-ed page? Clearly, tomorrow or next week or next year he'll launch a "fair trade" bank or something.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:22 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


We get these emails from time to time at work, and they're always.... Movin' on now, but thought I'd just say used to be such a great place to work yada yada, been here for 98 great years yada yada, in the last 60 years it's become blah blah. We used to be about the kids/puppies/baby seals, now it's the the Nazi party and dysfunctional water coolers blah blah. Tried to change the place blah blah. John's a terrible manager yada yada. Well, so long suckers, it's amazing that I stayed around for so long, and you're all dull saps for not spending your days surfing monstor.com like me.
posted by mattoxic at 4:33 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Part of me is all 'good for you for speakin the truth good buddy high five' and part of me is all like '12 years you dumb bastard go fuck a goat'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:45 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


these are the masters of our universe...
posted by ennui.bz at 4:47 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


He says he "doesn't know of anything illegal", however such egregious breach of fiduciary duty as he alleges surely would be illegal ... surely?

Prove it. I mean, you insert the standard disclaimer to the effect of "btw, you can lose money following our advice," and for the rest all you have to do is come up with some plausible sounding rationale for why it could have worked out for them --- a task you could trust the intern with, given that he probably has an MBA from the LSE and has been steeped in world class gobbledygook for years --- and you're golden. I mean, I guess the client could sue in the hopes of shaking loose some muppet slinging emails, but that's long and costly and highly uncertain.

On the subject of "muppet" -- I'd bet that's an import from the London office, "muppet" seems to be a fairly common term of contempt in British English, the connotation seems to be someone who's stupid and weak-willed, easily bent...
posted by Diablevert at 4:50 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Muppet is a general term of derision in the UK as Diablevert mentions.
posted by lalochezia at 4:59 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The interesting thing about "muppet" as a term of abuse is not so much what it says about the person it's directed at, but that it marks out the person using it as macho, narcissistic, contemptuous of others, tending to build their own self-esteem by tearing down those about them and stupid. These are people I'd like to keep as much distance from as possible, especially in a business environment. So it's ultimately a very useful signifier.
posted by Grangousier at 5:05 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder which wonderful, ethical firm handles his portfolio?
posted by michswiss at 5:15 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love this notion that the reason he finally realises Goldman is morally bankrupt is because it treats its billionaires without due respect, "even on the internal email". Profiting while millions of the global poor went hungry or died of malnutrition during the food price crisis was iffy, but "muppets" was a bridge too far.
posted by dontjumplarry at 5:17 AM on March 14, 2012 [34 favorites]


TLDR version: I've made so much money that I'm leaving to start my own hedge fund and need some publicity, suckers!
posted by blue_beetle at 5:23 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Guy was a derivatives salesman for 12 years. This isn't some insider speaking truth to power, it's a midlife crisis.

A less charitable read is that an Executive Director running an entire region of Derivatives sales is a little weird. It looks like he only moved to that role back in March if you think his FSA registration is normal. One might possibly surmise that he expected to get the nod to Managing Director back in the fall, and when he didn't the feedback was "be more aggressive" and he sort of broke.

(I'm not sure the marketing for his HF angle is right. If that's really what he wanted to do life would be much much easier with Goldman helping you out then with burning that bridge. )
posted by JPD at 5:27 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm glad he's trashing GS.
posted by Anything at 5:45 AM on March 14, 2012


Wait a minute... I know this guy!
posted by BobbyVan at 5:56 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The tone of this article feels more like a commercial for Mr. Smith than a scathing indictment of the financial industry

Precisely this, in the many ways it has been said above. Look for the book deal or speaking tour, coming third quarter 2012!
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:57 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]




It's weird that this exists at all - that the guy wrote it and the NYTimes published it. But the content is not compelling. I know, fiduciary duty, yadda, but it's hard for me to feel too much outrage or surprise that GS is trying to make money off hedge finds rather than selflessly make money for hedge funds. The problems with our financial system go way deeper than fiduciary agency issues and trying to reduce them to such is really propaganda for the banks.
posted by yarrow at 6:05 AM on March 14, 2012


What a wimpy little exit letter. Dude, I have Assange on the other line: get your email archive together.
posted by Theta States at 6:05 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Today is my last day in Mount Doom. Mordor's culture has changed beyond all recognition...
posted by shothotbot at 6:10 AM on March 14, 2012 [27 favorites]


In that he was dealing exclusively with institutions (which he was) there is not and never had been a fiduciary duty. There is a reason for that. If brokers had to care about what you buy and why you are buying it then it would be a lot harder to be a fund manager. The problem is that there actually are some fund managers who are muppets and can't do the math to figure out they are getting ripped off.

Where the line becomes more blurry is in securities underwriting - but that isn't what this guy did.
posted by JPD at 6:10 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, HR people get this general sentiment in exit interviews pretty much all the time.

It's not entirely clear to me why this particular guy gets to have his published in the New York Times.

I find that says far more about the state of American culture than anything this guy could say in his pretty generic "What happened to you, [place where I work], you used to be cool" letter.
posted by Naberius at 6:22 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or is this something you just have to be within a certain high tax bracket of salary to understand?

How about you'd like to have people think better of you so you are projecting that you, having learned of problems, decide to leave.

And because of people's attachment to the idea of "high dollar amount paycheck, high worth to society" leaving some place where you had 'a certain high tax bracket' for a 'lesser' place, you have some 'splain to do.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:26 AM on March 14, 2012




I am also skeptical that this "new" culture at GS is new. GS was deeply involved with the financial crisis, which has its roots in the 1990s, if not earlier. GS already had a corrosive financial ethos when he joined.
posted by jb at 6:28 AM on March 14, 2012


drat, just saw Gilgongo's link.
posted by litleozy at 6:28 AM on March 14, 2012


that said, what's wrong with being called a muppet? Muppets are awesome.

"Am I am maaaan, or am I a muppet?..."
posted by jb at 6:31 AM on March 14, 2012


The Tao of Margin Call:

If you really want to do this with your life you have to believe that you’re necessary. And you are. People want to live like this in their cars and their big fucking houses that they can’t even pay for? Then you’re necessary.

The only reason they all get to continue living like kings is because we’ve got our fingers on the scales in their favor. I take my hand off and the whole world gets really fucking fair really fucking quickly and nobody actually wants that. They say they do but they don’t.

They want what we have to give them, but they also want to play innocent and pretend they have no idea where it came from. That’s more hypocrisy than I’m willing to swallow.


The odd thing about Greg Smith's missive is that it's almost the right thing to say, however the reasons he lists are fundamentally out of alignment with his recent moral awakening.

Dontjumplarry hit it on the head: Profiting while millions of the global poor went hungry or died of malnutrition during the food price crisis

Smith begins by saying the Goldman culture -- that prestigious Holy Cow which he was a proud part of and has led for the majority of his career -- has changed. No longer is it about offering best-of-breed financial services and treating clients as partners in profit, but it's now about ripping people's faces off.

And in that vein, I think most of us can agree that the behaviour of the firm was not ideal. The overall tone of Smith echoes James Whittaker's piece last night Why I Left Google:

The old Google made a fortune on ads because they had good content. It was like TV used to be: make the best show and you get the most ad revenue from commercials. The new Google seems more focused on the commercials themselves.

Perhaps it's a theme of this week in March -- post mea culpa op-eds about how Behemoth X just isn't the same kind, gentle Behemoth it was before.

Perhaps there's a point of naivete for Smith and Whittaker, a fond reminiscence of how things were in the time before Blankfein, and Page. However, given the timing and high-profile of both of these communiques, it behoves a bit of slightly deeper thinking.

In the case of Whittaker, perhaps he really is trying to make a point about a change in Google culture that may corrupt the company's essential values. Or he could be cozying up to Microsoft, and recanting his time at Google.

In Smith's case, given the topics of conversation – wealth, trust, morality – there is the wonder about a greater game afoot. Perhaps he did wake up and have a Come-To-Jesus moment, a specific instant of clarity when his soul eeked out, "holy shit, this is wrong!".

A more cynical perspective is about the greater game. Is he attempting his own recantation, to ensure a path through the revolving door? Who better to regulate Goldman than one of it's own – an insider who had an awakening. Is he angling for a new job at the Treasury or one of the other arms of government? Or is this simply one of the best "I'm available" messages in memory, directed to the leaders of other banks and hedge funds?

Or, perhaps there is a power struggle going on behind the scenes at Goldman Sachs. It's been long known that Blankfein led trading operations for tremendous profit. Blankfein's own assension to CEO represented a shift in the company's focus, from a predominant focus on long-term investment banking relationships to a new directive prioritising short-term profits – those found in trading.

A simple analogy is that of sowing and reaping. As Goldman operates equally in a consultantive and advisory capacity, as well as direct investment, there was always a balance between sowing and reaping. That is, a balance between generating client returns (sowing) and capturing value for the firm (reaping). As any good farmer will tell you, both of these activities must be in balance to ensure a sustainable future. In a shift toward short-term profitability, Goldman may have lost the balance, spending more time reaping than sowing. And whilst there can be fantastic short-term profits in reaping the whole field in a single exercise, without sowing, the fields become follow.

Further, Blankfein has presided over both Goldman's ascension in absolute economic power, and simultaneously it's demonisation in the eyes of customers, government, and the general population. From that lens, one wonder's if Smith's letter is not part of a larger campaign to oust Blankfein. For beyond Smith's own hand-washing, he is careful to make the statement that Goldman was a guiding light, attracting the brightest and the best to do great work for customers. Thus the firm is not implicitly evil, rather the current leadership has steered the ship to unfortunate waters.

That point of view seems to be reiterated in the press this morning. Forbes: To save Goldman Sachs, Blankfein must go.

Thus, perhaps we are to see a changing of the guard in Goldman senior leadership. Based on a re-reading of Smith's letter, this would seem to be the most likely ambition. The letter does not address larger systemtic problems of wealth imbalance, the current state of the economy, or the fact that the financial services sector suffers slightly in comparison with everyone else. Thus this is not an indictment of Goldman's role in greater society. Rather, it's the opening salvo of a boardroom battle for control of the one of the world's most powerful corporations.

Sadly, another example that the financial services industry is still so consumed with itself and justifying its own importance, that real change and redress continues to be ignored.
posted by nickrussell at 6:36 AM on March 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


If this guy had really wanted to stiff Goldman Sachs, he should have used an elaborate plan to get an early look at the crop report, cornered the market in a confusing but ultimately satisfying short sell and then retired to a desert island with Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis and Denholm Elliot.
posted by Sutekh at 6:37 AM on March 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


He's only been there 12 years. Which puts him at 2000 when he started. And yet he claims there used to be some culture of integrity? Did this guy never see a movie about the 80s/from the 80s or even Wall Street? Or maybe read American Psycho? Or watch LA Law? Like wtf universe was he brainwashed in where morally craven assholes in finance are not the norm?
posted by spicynuts at 6:40 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Taking the moral high ground by standing on a rock in open pit mine he dug. Still, every little helps. I would have been more impressed had he leaked a ton of emails via bit torrent.
posted by Damienmce at 6:54 AM on March 14, 2012


I miss the old days when Goldman Sachs was a non-profit, happy to help people make more money and be happier while sacrificing its own profits. Apparently, so does Mr. Smith. He'll be so much happier when he starts his new job at Doctors Without Borders, as a derivatives trader.
posted by littlerobothead at 7:01 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or is this something you just have to be within a certain high tax bracket of salary to understand?

I suspect so, yes.

When your skills are valued at a certain level, looking for a job becomes more a matter of choosing between companies you'd like to work for. You can afford (literally) to be picky and go to a company you believe in.

Of course with familiarity breeding contempt and all it only takes a few years to convince yourself that
  1. That golden city you saw from afar really did exist the day before you joined.
  2. The fact that the company culture went into decline the exact second you started examining it closely is a coincidence.
  3. The poor deluded fools joining the company right now believing that it is a shining city of gold must be warned.
I don't know about finance, but in the Silicon Valley letters like this don't end careers; In fact they probably help them. Arrogance + attempted do-goodery plays well around here.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:01 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


IMO they tend to be fatal in finance, if only because idealism isn't a trait that tends to be in demand once you get above a certain level. If anything its the opposite.

Arrogance + attempted do-goodery yeah that plays well, but the do-goodery is expected to be extra-curricular. I.e. be on the board of a charter school or something.
posted by JPD at 7:09 AM on March 14, 2012


I did some clerical/office support work in a Goldman office in 2005. I don't really know finance at all. I answered phones. I put together investment books (like, printed, physically bound, etc). I sat at reception. The people were all very nice to me, though I was very pointedly NOT part of the company; I was an employee of an office services outsourcing company. (They wanted college grads who would take $12 an hour...but again, the GS people were always much nicer and more pleasant than my actual employer's people.)

I sat through LOTS of ethics training considering the low-impact of my position. I don't remember the investor books telling anyone to invest in anything remotely complicated; even I, with a single semester of economics, got what the books said. It all seemed kind of cynical (oil, pharmaceuticals), but not like it was pulling the wool over anyone's eyes. Different arms of the company (wealth management, municipal finance, etc) were kept in physically separate offices, and the people were under strict rules about talking shop with one another so as to prevent the unethical sharing of information. There were frequent reminders that I should NOT talk about work outside of work, or ever drop any names, because there's so much industrial espionage and employee poaching targeting GS that even a nobody like me could turn out to be a worthwhile source of information. The company really encouraged people to do charity work and such. From my admittedly limited and uneducated viewpoint, they really did seem concerned primarily with making money for their clients, because that was how they kept their clients.

I always got the feeling that the office I was in was sort of detached from the rest of the company. It was plainly very cutthroat; one day, a couple of people left together, and there was a tizzy over how many of their clients they'd take with them, which I'm sure is an issue for GS and Mr. Smith here in the article. But I don't really doubt that at some point within employee memory there was more of a concern for client success than for GS's bottom line. The feeling was that "the firm" was an unstoppable machine, anyway, so they could afford to take a few hits to preserve their integrity.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:31 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thought this was a pretty good comment from Felix Salmon.
posted by JPD at 7:31 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, there can be bad-ass muppets.
posted by williampratt at 7:34 AM on March 14, 2012


Metafilter: Go fuck a goat.
posted by symbioid at 7:38 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW: That stuff in the Salmon article about flattering the hell out of your clients? That's something I saw a lot. Constantly. Like I said, I saw a lot of "ethics" rules and training, but that doesn't mean I didn't see things going on that I thought were deeply cynical and manipulative.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:38 AM on March 14, 2012


I read this article last night before I went to bed.

It's one of the more incendiary things the NYT has published in a couple of years, I think, and rang completely true to me.

I really do not want to think ill of my fellows, but I'm having a hard time seeing the ferocity Smith is meeting here as anything other than that peculiar species of rage we reserve for anyone who dares to spurn our most unattainable desires.

When your symbiotes turn parasitic, they're about to die-- or you are.
posted by jamjam at 7:40 AM on March 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Did this genre of major corporation quitting letter begin after the Mad Men episode where Don write the anti-smoking ad after getting fired by the cigarette company? It would be wonderful if that led to that.
posted by taltalim at 7:57 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am amazed at all the "it just doesn't feel right" comments--none of which are supported really
Why would he go to his boss when he notes that what he is saying is how that specific firm operates and that telling his boss what the boss encourages is not going to change anything . He is not speaking for the entire industry though one can imagine that if so big a firm is like this many others must also be the same.

He may later open his own firm. So what? We can at the very least expect him to be honest there. But speaking from a first-hand basis, you first get your clients to go with you and then you can quit, badmouth the place etc.

My question: how many readers of this post have done or would do what this guy has done?
(not sure? read some Arthur Miller plays.)
posted by Postroad at 8:02 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


When your skills are valued at a certain level, looking for a job becomes more a matter of choosing between companies you'd like to work for. You can afford (literally) to be picky and go to a company you believe in.

Is that the case in finance these days? I was under the impression there was a whole lotta lay-offs going on. Though perhaps that is only among the grunt workers.

Anyone?
posted by IndigoJones at 8:07 AM on March 14, 2012


Lotta lay-offs. You ability to wait an choose is a function of what you did. If you were in a business where you relied on a banks balance sheet to drive your business you prob don't have a lot of options.
posted by JPD at 8:10 AM on March 14, 2012


This op-Ed will cause much more long term damage to Goldman Sachs than the dull Congressional hearings Blankfein testified at or some breathless purple prose Rolling Stone article. This is not trivial given the seniority of the writer and the status of where it's being published. GS will lose substantial business and influence over this. Mainly to other bulge bracket banks though.
posted by Bwithh at 8:10 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why can't people just quit without crowing about it?

Consider that these people are generally wealthy, having sufficient money/investments/interest to ensure their financial well-being without working for another employer in the field. They are also people who have been employed at a well-known company, typically in a high-level position.

That puts them in a unique position similar to that of celebrities who speak out on politically-charged issues: they possess a large soapbox (via press interest in their ex-employer, in the case of these people, and via their celebrity, for celebrities) and they have no reason not to use it (because they're wealthy and/or famous.)

In either case, you can take one of two views (if you bother to notice at all): either the person is helping, by using their unique position to fight the good fight that we can't, or the person is hurting, by wasting everybody's time calling attention to themselves. I suspect a given person's view is selected in large part by whether they agree or disagree with the person in question (which is, incidentally, why Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwartzenegger can run for office with full Neocon support, but woe betide the left-leaning celebrity who speaks out about a political issue.)
posted by davejay at 8:11 AM on March 14, 2012


I'm not sure why anyone is surprised or even outraged by what Smith alleges in his op-ed.

It's no secret that GS has been alleged to have sold securities to its clients that it expected would fail. It's also no secret that GS continued to sell mortgage-backed securities after the firm decided to short the housing market with its own money.

If Goldman's clients want to stay with the firm despite all that, who is Greg Smith to argue? And if Goldman's clients end up leaving the firm because they're being mistreated... hey, that's the market for you.

So what is his real motivation? If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say he's hoping to win clients fed up with eating Goldman's leftovers for his new hedge fund/investment advisory company... or, he's planning to pitch a book and wanted to kick it off with some earned media buzz.

One thing is clear though: this salesman got tired of selling GS, and now the bronze-medalist ping pong player is selling himself instead.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:16 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding what scaryblackdeath mentions above in terms of the secretary's-eye view of things at a financial firm (I went through scores of the same ethics training in my own similar position that I now hold).

Also -- I'm genuinely baffled at the tone of the responses here, I've gotta say. We've all been screaming about how Wall Street firms have tried to cover up what happens within the closed doors; and then when a guy finally speaks up about it, we taunt him for being grand-standy?

In all honesty, what would you want the financial firms to do?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 AM on March 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Meh.

If you ask me* anything that pushes the culture of banking back towards some semblance of non-sociopathic insanity, or even brings up the topic of conversation is a good thing.

If he is padding his nest for the future, who cares? Would you prefer he acted like every other banker who decides to quit and have him simply retire in silence to the south of France where he can be like everyone else?

I say focus on the problem at hand rather than the motivations of the people who bring it up.





*I know you didn't ask me.
posted by rudhraigh at 8:43 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly? At a raw emotional level, what I'd like firms like GS to do is die. Go away and be replaced by something better or at least better-regulated. And take the psychos who ran them down with them.

I mean, for God's sake, these people managed to fuck up the world, ruining the livelihoods of tens millions and indirectly causing the deaths of at least thousands. I don't want to see one of these fuckers complaining about how the culture changed. I want to see them crushed, driven before me, and hear the lamentations of their women. I want to see these shits as least as bad-off as the worst-off bastard they fucked over. I want them in Room 101.

I recognize that this is atavistic and wrong, and, worse, would almost certainly be counterproductive to actually put in place. But I'm not implementing anything, I'm just bitching about this asshole's oh-I'm-not-so-bad-and-I'm-still-filthy-rich comments that don't tell me anything that wasn't pretty fucking obvious. So, no, I don't think the fuck-you tone here is surprising at all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


All, or a lot or some of, what you guys are saying might be true, but the New York Times decided the issues he raises are worth publishing as an Op-Ed, not in a snarky look at this loser flame out Gawker kind of way.
posted by Flashman at 8:56 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well in that case it's at least as true and useful and vital as Saddam having weapons of mass destruction.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:01 AM on March 14, 2012


the New York Times decided the issues he raises are worth publishing as an Op-Ed

Some endorsement!
posted by BobbyVan at 9:01 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If Goldman's clients want to stay with the firm despite all that, who is Greg Smith to argue? And if Goldman's clients end up leaving the firm because they're being mistreated... hey, that's the market for you.

Truly, all's for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:02 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yay all of a sudden he's a good guy for quitting. NOT.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:03 AM on March 14, 2012


Yeah but that's a comment on the biases of the NYT editorial board and the general low quality of the business pages then it is on the actual newsworthiness of the article.

If it really does turn out this guy is a 12th year VP on a team of one (Which is what GS is saying) then that puts the whole thing in a different light. Not that he's wrong at all, I fully believe everything he said, and had he written this in 2005 I would have felt the same way.
posted by JPD at 9:03 AM on March 14, 2012


Wow. Really people? Are so many of you so jaded and pessimistic these days that when a single human being rises above the muck and says, "ick - this is wrong on an intrinsic level and I'm going to say so" that you see only selfish motivation and ego?

I see a refreshing sense of real integrity ..........
posted by cdalight at 9:03 AM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Michael, I wish you'd resisted the temptation of a massive salary (and bonuses), and stayed home. And I bet you wish the same.

STACEY?!
posted by michaelh at 9:04 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Call me when he starts cooperating with federal prosecutors.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


Are so many of you so jaded and pessimistic these days that when a single human being rises above the muck and says, "ick - this is wrong on an intrinsic level and I'm going to say so" that you see only selfish motivation and ego?


It took him 12 years to see the muck?
posted by JPD at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean the guy goes out of his way to tell us how smart he is, and then it took him 12 years to arrive at the statement "Investment Banks are generally not out purely for the good of their clients"
posted by JPD at 9:07 AM on March 14, 2012


"Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
"

posted by entropicamericana at 9:14 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Honestly? At a raw emotional level, what I'd like firms like GS to do is die. Go away and be replaced by something better or at least better-regulated. And take the psychos who ran them down with them.

Okay, and what would you want to see at a practical level?

It took him 12 years to see the muck?

Do you also scoff at battered women who don't leave their husbands right away because "it took her 12 years to figure out he was an asshole"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


It took him 12 years to see the muck?

So there's a manual on waking up and finding your own truth and integrity? He was out of the required time frame was he?

Truly - you people are surprising me with your reactions here. Maybe my background gave me an advantage reading his letter ... my husband worked for 35 years in the stock industry starting back in the late 60's in a very unique niche that no longer exists. Why? Because when he first started there was an integrity and an honesty in the small firms he dealt with - it WAS about doing the best things for the clients. The firms prospered, because that WAS the motivating foundation of the company. Good things and attitudes result in good things. Then ... then ... the big guys started swallowing up the little fish. It became not about - as this man speaks to - doing right by the clients, it became about doing right by the "company." Then? It got nasty.

And as it got nasty? It got illegal. And that was it. I'm glad to say my husband got out. Rightly so.

I read this letter not as a PR attempt for his own selfish agenda. I read it as a man who finally found his right-mind and integrity and couldn't do his job for the wrong reasons anymore. And he thought maybe if he spoke out about it - told his own personal truth - that it would resonate with others.

Personally? I hope it does. I commend him for his personal courage and integrity and for waking up one morning and realizing he couldn't play the game anymore - not to serve himself, but to do that one small personal thing that will let him sleep better at night and just might make a difference. Maybe if we're all lucky? It will have a ripple affect.......and just maybe it wasn't his ego making him write this, it was his honest attempt at waking other people up.
posted by cdalight at 9:21 AM on March 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Do you also scoff at battered women who don't leave their husbands right away because "it took her 12 years to figure out he was an asshole"?

Yes because being paid 400k+ a year for years is exactly the same thing as being in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.

"Oh Mother Goldman I know you didn't mean to bury that extra 50bps of profit in the price for that total return swap you quoted KIA. Maybe If I'm a better salesman then they won't try to rip off NBIM"
posted by JPD at 9:22 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you also scoff at battered women who don't leave their husbands right away because "it took her 12 years to figure out he was an asshole"?

I don't think that's a fair accusation towards me - I have a published piece entitled "There but For the Grace of God..." that details my personal experience with domestic violence. It speaks directly to the power of understanding - and forgiveness. It perhaps speaks to my ability to read this letter with an open mind and heart towards the writer. I forgive you for your erroneous assumption. We all do that on occasion. And then hopefully? We grow from the experience....
posted by cdalight at 9:24 AM on March 14, 2012


I don't think that's a fair accusation towards me

pretty sure it was directed at me.
posted by JPD at 9:25 AM on March 14, 2012


Alright, I do admit that the battered-woman comparison was kind of a cheap-shot metaphor, and I apologize.

But I also think that "it took him x years to figure this out so he sucks" was also a pretty damn cheap shot too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on March 14, 2012


pretty sure it was directed at me.

Ah - so you're right! My apologies to the writer of the original comment.

But I suppose the error on my part opened up the opportunity for me to share the perspective for why I read the letter with an attitude that's very open to redemption and seeing it in a positive light. Because of what I've been through in my life - I try very hard to remember the lessons and not be cynical - nor to judge - when someone attempts to redeem themselves and do the right thing. I don't always - got a long way to go - but I try.

I guess it just makes me sad to see that the understandably jaded opinion everyone has of the banking industry these days is coloring the ability of this one man in the middle of it to tell truth to b.s. and try at least - to make a difference in his way.
posted by cdalight at 9:33 AM on March 14, 2012


well I didn't really mean he sucked because it took him 12 years, just that it isn't especially heroic given what appears to be other circumstances surrounding his departure.

For example if David Viniar published this op-ed after 32 years at the firm, then I wouldn't joke that it took him 32 years to see the muck. That would be pretty heroic actually.
posted by JPD at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2012


I think it's just the knowledge that he started in 2000 - 2000! - that a lot of us find so rich. I mean Christ, this is dumb to even bring up, but that movie Boiler Room came out in 2000 and was basically about Goldman Sachs and firms like it, and exactly about the sorts of unethical, toxic, client-averse practices Smith pretends to be blind to. If Hollywood entertainment fucking knew it back then, surely a true insider did too. He just loved the money too much, and now he has enough influence to spin a narrative as a do-gooder. I would even speculate that the shit is about to hit the fan at Goldman too - something ugly coming to light? And he's writing this op-ed as a preemptive protection for himself.
posted by naju at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


well I didn't really mean he sucked because it took him 12 years, just that it isn't especially heroic given what appears to be other circumstances surrounding his departure.

But why is "hero" even a name you're assuming he wants?

It just looks like: okay, we've all been shouting that "the system's broken and we need to do something about it." And here comes someone from WITHIN the system saying "you're right, the system's broken and we need to do something about it." And instead of saying "THANK YOU, yes, come join us and help us figure out what to do!" people are sayng "boo, you didn't figure it out soon enough, go away!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


When you have so much money that you can buy whatever you want, your taste for luxury becomes more refined. One extremely expensive product he'd lately been doing without is the good feeling about oneself because of the way one treats others. It looks like he can now afford this one too and he's buying it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:46 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Greg Smith is the sales guy in this video.
posted by mullacc at 9:51 AM on March 14, 2012


Yeah, I don't see the reason for the grar here. The world doesn't long operate on people acting against their own perceived self-interest.

My guess would be that a lot of people in this thread would like to see some Goldman Sachs executives in jail. Guess what? The imposition of criminal penalties is an incentive. Aligning people's self-interest to doing right by one another is what makes civilization possible.

So this guy's acting in his self-interest as he sees it. Maybe that doesn't make him a hero as such, but what he's done by writing this op-ed is in all likelihood better for everyone than if he continued to work at GS.
posted by gauche at 9:52 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Honestly, the only thing I got out of this op-ed is that Brits really do call people "muppets" outside Guy Ritchie movies.

Well, that's not true actually. I also learned that Greg Smith is a *very special* person who got selected to be in a recruiting video, was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship, and was the 3rd best Jewish ping pong player at one point.

I'm pleased to say that I already knew that Goldman Sachs, like most publicly traded companies, is motivated by profit.
And here comes someone from WITHIN the system saying "you're right, the system's broken and we need to do something about it." And instead of saying "THANK YOU, yes, come join us and help us figure out what to do!" people are sayng "boo, you didn't figure it out soon enough, go away!"
All Smith is saying is that Goldman hasn't been nice enough to its clients, and that Goldman's culture is insufficiently virtuous. That's pretty much the standard line from every laid-off middle-aged salesman (seriously, go watch Glengarry Glen Ross). It's a far cry from saying "the system is broken."
posted by BobbyVan at 9:55 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this fellow doesn't need further employment. I appreciate the glimpse of Goldman Sachs' culture. Not like I thought bankers are wonderful people, but I am surprised at the contempt for their clients. And a little surprised that that he ranks winning at table tennis among his proudest moments.
posted by OrderOctopoda at 9:58 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, and what would you want to see at a practical level?

Who cares? This isn't a thread about reasoned, practical things that might be done to move the world to the least-bad consequences of them fucking it up. We could have that thread if it were a different post; if it were a post about the technical minutiae of financial regulation and why it matters, or a thread about the dry, technocratic levers governments have to try to unfuck this situation. But this isn't one of those threads. It's a thread about the public commentary of someone who was one of the people fucking it up.

The idea that I have to have some fully thought out, well reasoned plan of action in order to react negatively to this schmuck telling us, now, that GS was fucked up (which we already knew) is risible on its face.

Do you also scoff at battered women who don't leave their husbands right away because "it took her 12 years to figure out he was an asshole"?

No, but I sure as fuck scoff at husbands who take 12 years to stop beating their wives and whose remorse stops at just ceasing to beat their wives.

You want me not to scoff at you for taking 12 years to stop beating your wife? Do something important or personally costly about wife-beating. Pointing at some men that we all know are wife-beaters and saying "Those men are bad wife-beaters! I only slapped mine, and only when she needed it! I didn't like how our culture shifted from slapping women around to torturing them!"... that don't cut it, buster.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:01 AM on March 14, 2012


That's pretty much the standard line from every laid-off middle-aged salesman (seriously, go watch Glengarry Glen Ross). It's a far cry from saying "the system is broken."

The whole point of Glengarry Glen Ross is that "the system is broken." (Though, admittedly, today Mamet probably regards as an encomium what he once considered a dirge.)
posted by octobersurprise at 10:08 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


This isn't a thread about reasoned, practical things that might be done to move the world to the least-bad consequences of them fucking it up. We could have that thread if it were a different post; if it were a post about the technical minutiae of financial regulation and why it matters, or a thread about the dry, technocratic levers governments have to try to unfuck this situation. But this isn't one of those threads. It's a thread about the public commentary of someone who was one of the people fucking it up.

....I'm not seeing how the type of article we respond to dictates the kind of conversation we must have about it.

And I'm not seeing the need for a whole separate post just so I can respond to your comment about wanting the entire system turn down just to say "well, yeah, but you're not going to get that, so now what?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:09 AM on March 14, 2012


I'm still laughing.

Christ what an asshole...

I love how he crammed in his achievements, his education and that Bronze medal in ping-pong.

He's no Jerry Maguire, let's cut the shit.

He's some guy who didn't get the promotion he wanted and he's got enough 'fuck you' money to take a walk.

Goldman Sachs hasn't changed materially in 12 years. 143 years? Probably not that many years either. It's always been about making money, whether or not they appreciate or feel contempt for their customers. But hey, whatever lets you sleep at night.

But, being the ginormous asshole that he is, he's going to burn the village and salt the earth on his way out of town.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


The hate here is sort of like the people who deride Al Gore and climate change because he drove an SUV. The thinking seems to be that if someone isn’t perfect, then they’re wrong, and an asshole. There must be a lot of perfect people here.

A guy is making a lot of money working for a firm that he comes to believe is immoral. He doesn’t feel right about it, so he quits, and tells others why. I say good job, thanks, and encourage others to do the same. I’m not going to get into whether he’s nice to his bartender. If you drop out of the drug cartel, stop beating your wife, whatever, then I say good job, thanks, and encourage others to do the same.
posted by bongo_x at 10:17 AM on March 14, 2012 [9 favorites]




The whole point of Glengarry Glen Ross is that "the system is broken." (Though, admittedly, today Mamet probably regards as an encomium what he once considered a dirge.)

For the purposes of my argument (and my own interpretation of the play/film for that matter), GGR is about how sales is a cut-throat and unforgiving business. People who don't make it in sales always claim that the business is too profit-driven and lacks virtue.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:20 AM on March 14, 2012


What's the deal with muppets, though? You've got your hand up their butt and you're making them do whatever you want? New usage to me.
posted by Trochanter at 10:20 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously - the anger and pessimism here overall in the responses is surprising to me and just keeps getting worse.

Depressing and sad that so many seem so jaded. Calling the personal truth-tellers "assholes" seems counter-productive to me. I saw his listing of achievements as his way of saying, "hey, I'm an intelligent human being who values dedication, focus, hard work and integrity..."

I really don't get it, this negative reaction.
posted by cdalight at 10:22 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The hate here is sort of like the people who deride Al Gore and climate change because he drove an SUV. The thinking seems to be that if someone isn’t perfect, then they’re wrong, and an asshole. There must be a lot of perfect people here.

I think it's more that the guy profited immensely for over a decade from exactly the things he's decrying, all of which were so obvious during his entire tenure that he would have to be either unaccountably oblivious or deep into the kool-aid not to have noticed before now.

It's not like Al Gore driving an SUV, it's like Al Gore having made his fortune by leveling rainforests to make way for coal mines.
posted by bjrubble at 10:25 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes - what Taibbi says:


"Anyway, Smith's op-ed is a brave and thoughtful piece of writing:

My proudest moments in life — getting a full scholarship to go from South Africa to Stanford University, being selected as a Rhodes Scholar national finalist, winning a bronze medal for table tennis at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, known as the Jewish Olympics — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Goldman Sachs today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

There are a lot of people who just want to tear Wall Street down and start over again, but what Smith did in this piece was show that people like him can be part of the solution. What he did couldn’t have been easy – kudos to him, and let's hope the inevitable blowback sent his way won't be too rough."

posted by cdalight at 10:29 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It turns out this guy got a clue from ask metafilter! Alas, if he had been a bit more frugal with his spending habits he could have gotten out in a lot less than twelve years.

A lot of us could have gotten out in a couple. And if I had done that I fully expect that a lot of people would be throwing stones at my glass house if I started talking about what a bunch of greedy fucks my old employers are.

Also this isn't news. See: Where are the Customers' Yachts?, first published in 1940.
posted by bukvich at 10:37 AM on March 14, 2012


I'm not seeing how the type of article we respond to dictates the kind of conversation we must have about it.

You don't expect the conversation to reflect the specifics of the post?

It's not like Al Gore driving an SUV, it's like Al Gore having made his fortune by leveling rainforests to make way for coal mines.

...and then writing an editorial about how it's those other rainforest levelers who were bad, not him. The real problem is that instead of leveling rainforests with integrity, like he did and like the company did right before it all went to shit, and now they're just leveling rainforests for the money.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:40 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


And plus also Goldman is a publicly traded corporation and if you have stocks in your 401K you almost certainly own it.
posted by bukvich at 10:42 AM on March 14, 2012


I really don't get it, this negative reaction.

Well, I kind of do, actually; frustration at the system itself. I just think turning that frustration upon someone who SHARES your frustration is shooting one's self in the foot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:47 AM on March 14, 2012


I was under the very distinct impression that by the time Smith arrived at Goldman Sachs 12 years ago, Goldman Sachs was already a moneymaking machine that cared little for its clients. It's frightening to think that Smith can look back on the early 2000s as some idyllic time--that was exactly when the subprime bullshit that Sachs was such a crucial player in was taking flight.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:49 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not like Al Gore driving an SUV, it's like Al Gore having made his fortune by leveling rainforests to make way for coal mines.

...and then writing an editorial about how it's those other rainforest levelers who were bad, not him. The real problem is that instead of leveling rainforests with integrity, like he did and like the company did right before it all went to shit, and now they're just leveling rainforests for the money.

As long as he quits doing it and repents then I commend him (The evil hypothetical Al Gore that you guys know).

It’s not my place to try and figure out if Greg Smith is sincere.

I don’t see how publicly attacking people who change their ways for the better will encourage more people to change. If you think these companies are evil, what is it you want to happen, don’t you want the people that work there to do just what this guy has done? Of course I understand that some people just don’t believe in forgiveness. There seems to be some amount of "I don’t want you to change because I’m not done hating you yet" going on.
posted by bongo_x at 10:57 AM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Re: 401K's owning Goldman: Yup, your pension fund invested in Goldman Sachs because under Glass-Steagall it was the kind of bank that was only allowed to make safe, slow, long form investments which generated modest but secure returns. Perfect for a pension fund. Then, in 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley happened. And lo! Goldman was allowed to shoot craps.

Smith can look back on the early 2000s as some idyllic time

In a way I can believe that a real crystallization of this arrogant brazen attitude happened since the bailout.

"Holy Flarging Snit! They're really not going to let us fail! They're not going to prosecute us! We really ARE Masters of the Universe!"

As to Greg Smith. Good on him. His ethics got the better of him. We need every voice we can get in this chorus.
posted by Trochanter at 11:03 AM on March 14, 2012


Here is an internal GS memo [.pdf] on the Greg Smith op-ed.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:04 AM on March 14, 2012


Here is an internal GS memo [.pdf] on the Greg Smith op-ed.

See? Here's proof we're not a bunch of no-caring-about-clients-Muppet-naming-assholes: we asked ourselves what we thought about ourselves, and we think we're actually pretty great.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:06 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


don’t you want the people that work there to do just what this guy has done?

Well, honestly I would want them to be true whistleblowers with all that entails - as a result of their op-eds lawsuits should be filed, investigations should be done, people's lives should be forever changed, the entire institution should be in tethers and forced to be transparent and rebuild with a radically different and no-bullshit sense of integrity. If wishes were ponies... In comparison one of the main takeaways from this op-ed was the extremely questionable "nothing illegal took place as far as I know."
posted by naju at 11:14 AM on March 14, 2012


Here is an internal GS memo [.pdf] on the Greg Smith op-ed.

And then I see that shit and I see Blankfein's face as he sat before congress and I think that nothing short of ugly is going to change things.

"nothing illegal took place as far as I know."

If you've got the right laws on the books, nothing's illegal period.
posted by Trochanter at 11:18 AM on March 14, 2012


Parody from the Daily Mash: Why I am leaving the Empire, by Darth Vader
posted by knz at 11:26 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't say.
posted by Trochanter at 11:28 AM on March 14, 2012


In that he was dealing exclusively with institutions (which he was) there is not and never had been a fiduciary duty.

If he held a higher qualification, like a CFA, he may have been subject to higher ethical standards. Regardless, I'm not sure that I quite believe that he had no knowledge of illegal activites.

I really don't get it, this negative reaction.

I love Metafilter but it does a really crappy job when discussing anything related to banking.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:28 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My proudest moments in life - the pod race, being lured over to the Dark Side and winning a bronze medal for mind control ping-pong at the Midi-Chlorian Games - known as the Jedi Olympics - have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. (daily mash article, above)

This expresses what's wrong with the article, so brilliantly.
posted by polymodus at 11:32 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Its not like we're asking him to prove his repentance through self flagellation (bodily or monetarily).

Or are we?
posted by Slackermagee at 11:36 AM on March 14, 2012


It is important when you burn your bridges that you wait until just after the bonus checks have cleared.
posted by srboisvert at 11:50 AM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Naju: I would even speculate that the shit is about to hit the fan at Goldman too - something ugly coming to light? And he's writing this op-ed as a preemptive protection for himself.

That's more or less what I'm sensing from this; an early-warning bell of sorts. I truly, truly hope this is contained within GS itself and doesn't turn into another ethical systemic failure that's going to expose far-reaching toxicity of some sort, in the economy itself, and another terrible shock to the country due to Wall Street's inability to re-capture something akin to an ethical ethos.
posted by Skygazer at 11:59 AM on March 14, 2012


well if that sore loser can't be a team player, GS just hired a new guy who can
posted by Postroad at 12:11 PM on March 14, 2012


GS also just hired former White House Press Secretary (under Clinton) and Treasury spokesman (under Geithner), Jake Siewert, as its global head of communications.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:16 PM on March 14, 2012


BlanKfein's and Cohn's Interntal Memo to Goldman Sachs:
Anyone who feels otherwise has available to him or her a mechanism for anonymously expressing their concerns. We are not aware that the writer of the opinion piece expressed misgivings through this avenue, however, if an individual expresses issues, we examine them carefully and we will be doing so in this case.


This strikes me as hilarious. How do you anonymously tell the company you work for that it's whole culture is repellent and devoid of a moral or ethical center.

If Smith is right, I think you've gone way past the: Send us an anonymous suggestion through the usual mechanism.

I guess they have a "suggestion box"? It's right next to the "Coffee Fund"?
posted by Skygazer at 12:19 PM on March 14, 2012




If he held a higher qualification, like a CFA, he may have been subject to higher ethical standards.

actually he wouldn't
posted by JPD at 1:43 PM on March 14, 2012


I am sure that GS gave this guy a lot of money and opportunity. Now he turns on them and jumps on the high horse. It's in bad taste. Some people are greedy for money; others are more greedy for positive attention.

The clients aren't stupid. That Goldman is a highly self-interested, mercenary entity wouldn't come as news to them. Either fiduciary duty exists or it doesn't, and when it doesn't due diligence is the client's responsibility, and buyer beware etc.
posted by knoyers at 2:00 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


and buyer beware etc.

No no no no no.

The clients aren't stupid.

Let's not forget that the administrators of these pension funds were brand new to the sorts of investing made legal by Gramm-Leach-Bliley.* Sure it's possible they were stupid. But even at that, it's not stupid to expect to be dealt with honestly. Even the most hidebound market fundamentalist would see that expectation as crucial to a market's ability to function. Caveat emptor is advice for citizens to live by, not for governments to govern by, or regulators to regulate by. It's the completely backwards, through the looking glass way to view things.

*The time scale of this stuff is hilarious. Three lousy stinking years after Gramm-Leach-Bliley, these 401k's are chin deep in exactly the kind of investments they were being protected from under the old system. And five lousy stinking years after that the roof falls in. It's like one of those "I'm not gonna dress up like a girl" smash cuts from Gilligan's Island. Is there any better proof that these free market people are out-and-out terrible economists? One more real world proof on the pile.
posted by Trochanter at 3:13 PM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


GLB didn't change what pension funds could and could not invest in.
posted by JPD at 3:29 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re: 401K's owning Goldman: Yup, your pension fund invested in Goldman Sachs because under Glass-Steagall it was the kind of bank that was only allowed to make safe, slow, long form investments which generated modest but secure returns.

uh. No. Goldman was always a risk-taking investment bank that was not regulated like a commercial bank.
posted by JPD at 3:32 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's my impression--and I may well be wrong and/or naive--that the people who choose some sort of public forum for discussing their reasons for quitting are the people who were highly invested in their company and who are genuinely frustrated by the directions that they see their companies pursuing.

I'd buy this if he wrote that letter 4 years ago. Or even 10.

I suspect that if we could see his bank account, we'd find that he suddenly developed a conscience only when his landing became sufficiently padded.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:57 PM on March 14, 2012


If Goldman was actually providing false information to clients or customers, that would be illegal and wrong. But any time anyone sells anything, they aren't betting that its value is going to rise. They are betting that it's a better time now than in the future to take their capital out of it. The buyer makes their own judgment. Selling financial products that you don't consider a wise investment isn't inherently wrong unless you have a fiduciary duty to the client or buyer. That is just everyday business.

Greg Smith is less sympathetic to me than Goldman Sachs is. The clients of Goldman Sachs are responsible for themselves and don't need Mr. Smith's self-serving public sympathy either.
posted by knoyers at 5:22 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we lock these fuckers up already?
posted by bardic at 8:25 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a wimpy little exit letter... Christ what an asshole...

He may be a wimpy asshole, but it looks like those roughly 1,250 words in the NYT cost Goldman Sachs about $2,150,000,000 today. $1,720,000 a word is pretty impressive writing.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:55 PM on March 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yves Smith , formerly of Goldman Sachs, comments:
Earth to Greg: the old days were not quite as rosy as you suggest, but it is true that Goldman once cared about the value of its franchise, and that constrained its behavior. So it was “long term greedy,” eager to grab any profit opportunity but concerned about its reputation.
Link
posted by wuwei at 11:35 PM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


The snark towards this guy is pretty intense, even for Metafilter.

Honestly, though, I can't see what is so disgusting about Greg Smith's letter. Sure, he's no angel - but does he have to be for a lot of what he's saying to be true? There's something of the TV lawyer's (and, for all I know, the real world's as well) traditional tactic of trying to discredit the critic.

And, bigger picture, what is the level of moral and social purity required to criticize Wall Street? Matt Taibbi, apparently, is not good enough these days, and don't even get me started about some of the criticisms that I've read even here of Occupy Wall Street (white supremacists? Really?). Any criticism of Obama for not going after the banksters more eagerly is immediately dismissed by Very Serious People (would that those Very Serious People spent the same energy going after the criminals on Wall Street as they do going after those attempting to hold those criminals accountable).

The simplest explanation to me is that the reason why criticisms of Wall Street are always dealt with in such a manner is that there are many people who see nothing wrong with Wall Street's behavior - and, what's more, actively support it.

All I know is that if we're going to wait for the perfect moral paragon before we can legitimately criticize and work to change the financial system that nearly tanked the world economy 4 years ago (and will do so again, mark my words), then we'll be waiting a long, long time.

Maybe that's the point, though.
posted by jhandey at 5:27 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


GS has 12,000 Vice Presidents? That's pretty funny. (internal memo pdf)
posted by ryanrs at 5:34 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just watched the Springsteen keynote posted today. The Bruce gives this heartfelt and wonderful autobiography that totally avoids the masturbatory self-pleasuring nature of Mr. Smith's column. Its like day and night, comparing the two of them.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:43 AM on March 16, 2012




Zuccotti Park / Liberty Square is being re-occupied.
posted by Skygazer at 7:45 PM on March 17, 2012


*Livestream Link*
posted by Skygazer at 7:53 PM on March 17, 2012


God bless 'em.
posted by Trochanter at 11:39 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why the hedge fund world loved Obama in 2008—and viscerally despises him today.

Via Paul Krugman, who comments:
This seems completely right to me. When you make a billion dollars a year, you can buy anything you want — which means that goods and services yield almost no marginal utility. What you crave, then, is what money can’t buy: respect.
posted by Anything at 2:21 AM on March 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can he count on muppets to buy books?

The New York Times reports today:
Greg Smith, the former Goldman Sachs executive who resigned in spectacular fashion last week by blasting the firm in an Op-Ed page article in The New York Times, is now shopping a book proposal to major publishers in New York, several people with knowledge of the conversations said.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:38 PM on March 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Felix TV's The Goldman Sachs Muppets song: Client or Muppet?
posted by chavenet at 4:10 AM on March 26, 2012


everytime I see this thread in my "recent activity", I think "oh, yeah, that one's about banking, not actually about Muppets."

now it actually has Muppet content, and I'm happy.

/massive Muppet fan
posted by jb at 5:55 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


**spoilers**

Let's not forget that at the end of the Muppet movie, the naive Muppets had only raised 1% of their needed goal, and then managed to solve their problems with what they do best: cruel blunt trauma.

Direct action works!
posted by Theta States at 6:05 AM on March 26, 2012


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