Friday, June 26, 2009

Matt Taibbi versus Goldman Sachs

Here's Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone feature article on Goldman Sachs, via Zero Hedge, "The Great American Bubble Machine: From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression - and they're about to do it again". And here is Goldman Sachs's response, via Felix Salmon: "Goldman Sachs responds to Taibbi".

Incidentally, when I tried reading Matt Taibbi's article at Zero Hedge yesterday, the Scribd application wouldn't load, perhaps because it was overwhelmed with hits. So I headed to the Hackensack Barnes & Noble. I couldn't find Rolling Stone on the magazine rack, so I asked one of the Barnes & Noble clerks where it was. "Sold out," he said, "There was something important in it, I don't know what". I just started reading the article, so I don't have more to say about it, but you've got links to both sides of the story above. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment thread.


A few thoughts, now that I've read Taibbi's article and Salmon's post on Goldman's response:

- There's some truth in Taibbi's article, but it's padded with a good measure of exaggeration. Goldman certainly participated in all the bubbles Taibbi mentions, and profited from them, but the dot-com bubble, the housing bubble, etc., would have happened without Goldman Sachs.

- Taibbi takes the hedge fund manager Masters at his word re: the commodities spike last year. Goldman is an enormous player in commodities, but one problem with blaming the commodity spike on paper speculation, or on firms such as Goldman getting pension funds to pour money into commodity index funds, is that the prices of commodities that aren't traded on futures markets or included in commodity indexes (for example, certain metals) spiked as well.

- Where the actions of Goldman employees and alumni deserve the most scrutiny is in relation to the bailouts of last year (and also the non-bailout of Lehman Brothers).

- Regarding this bit from Felix Salmon,

[Goldman Sachs public relations officer Lucas] Van Praag told me that in the wake of the events of the past year or two, Goldman’s partners have pretty much lost their appetite for going into public service. Maybe that’s for the best. They are generally smart and talented and knowledgeable people, and I daresay that many of them have done a lot of good after leaving the firm and joining government. At the same time, however, we’re supposed to have a government of the people, not a government of multimillionaire Goldman Sachs technocrats.

Two points: 1) I'd hate to think that any Goldman partners have soured on public service, but if they feel the need to do something altruistic, I'm sure no one will object if they decide to teach a high school math class or something after they retire with their managing director money. 2) Contra Salmon, I see no problem with multimillionaire technocrats in key positions in the Treasury department -- most knowledgeable finance types will have accumulated some wealth along the way, (even via side projects and consulting if they are academics). The problem is when so many of these multimillionaire technocrats come from the same firm. This is one case where there would be some inherent value in a little diversity.


JK said...

One of the comments from the Salmon article:

"I’m surprised Goldman hasn’t had one of its alums appointed to the CIA so [people like] Matt Taibbi can be 'eliminated.'

But only after Goldman takes out a life insurance policy on him.

- Posted by George Caballero"


DaveinHackensack said...

That's funny. Maybe Goldman decided to pull some strings instead to make Taibbi go bald in his early thirties.