Collectively, in their pivotal appearance before Congress, Goldman’s top performers could not muster the sincerity, transparency or gravitas of a used car salesman. It is unlikely to play well on Main Street.
Nothing illustrates the folly and arrogance of Wall Street more than the appearance of the Goldman Sachs executives who testified yesterday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Rarely has such a group of men (of Goldman’s seven past and current employees who appeared as witnesses, all were men) so graphically confirmed Main Street’s jaded image of Wall Street. Collectively, the best Goldman had to offer in their fields could not muster the sincerity, transparency or gravitas of a used car salesman. Their failure to give clear answers even extended to a refusal to acknowledge the duty to act in the best interests of clients. To many watching the performance, the only conclusion is that they are so used to acting in their own interests that they are unable to understand a larger sense of duty. This is often what happens when great wealth arrives to youth before maturity and wisdom have made an entrance.
Whatever skills these people were paid their millions for, memory did not seem to be among them, with so many constantly claiming they did not know or could not remember key facts and events. Goldman’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein offered little more in his grasp of details. One might have expected that someone who was paid well in excess of $100 million over the past five years and heads what is widely regarded as the world’s preeminent investment banker would be able to manage the tasks of stringing words together in complete sentences and in persuasive thoughts. As the English language is not yet something Wall Street has learned to monetize or short, those skills do not appear to matter there. They do to Main Street.
If, having played a central role in the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression and needing the injection of hundreds of billions in public funds to keep it solvent, Wall Street — and especially its most illustrious icons — cannot manage to explain what they do and why in a coherent fashion to the satisfaction of Main Street, if they cannot project a sense of ethics and purpose that goes beyond self- interest, if their values appear disconnected from reality and the value they add to society seems only synthetic and contrived, the need for fundamental reform in both the culture of these institutions and the laws that regulate them is more urgent and far-reaching than anyone has yet imagined.