Thursday, April 16, 2009

"John Gapper Brings the Crazy"

Add the FT's John Gapper to Megan McCardle's crazy contingent1 for questioning the political influence Goldman Sachs wields via its alumni in government. In his column today ("Don’t set Goldman Sachs free, Mr Geithner") Gapper writes:

Goldman wants to escape the burdens of political control while retaining the benefits of public backing. That does not seem like a good deal for the taxpayer.

There are obvious political risks in letting Goldman roam free while other banks remain bound by the troubled asset relief programme (Tarp). It would exacerbate suspicions that Goldman, with its long history of producing Treasury secretaries, gets special treatment. These were not soothed by the decision to pay off all Goldman’s credit default swaps with American International Group, now controlled by the state.

The bigger danger is the long-term precedent it would set. Goldman wants to bolt before Congress or Mr Geithner, who still operates as a one-man band while the nomination process for his senior staff meanders along, has the chance to change fundamentally how it operates.

So far, it has faced mildly irritating limits on how much it can pay staff but nothing on the scale of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which imposed structural reforms on Wall Street after the excesses of the Jazz Age. It would never acknowledge it, but its political campaign is going just fine.


[Goldman CEO Lloyd] Blankfein criticised Wall Street’s past pay practices as “self-serving and greedy” but Goldman is still putting aside 50 per cent of revenues – $4.7bn in the first quarter – for the bonus pool. Inside, it may feel “humbled”, as Mr Blankfein said, but it looks like the same old bank.

The same, that is, except for one thing – Goldman is now backed by the US government. That is why Mr Blankfein wants to repay the Tarp money. Once it has repaid the $10bn, Goldman hopes to go back to paying employees what it wants, buying and selling more or less what it fancies and operating as before.

He is peddling an illusion. Even if Goldman repays the equity, the world has changed irrevocably because it is a government-backed enterprise.

The illustration above accompanied Gapper's column in the FT.

1New readers can see this previous post for an explanation: "David Weidner Brings the Crazy".

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