24 October 2012

Greg Smith of Goldman Fame Walks Into the Wall Street Lion's Den

Stephanie Ruhle keeps stepping on the interview, often changing direction and hijacking the discussion, peppering Smith with multiple questions, but it is interesting nonetheless. And she does manage to ask some good questions, often which she attempts to answer herself.  But that is the state of corporate advocacy journalism today.

As you watch this bear in mind that Goldman and other Wall Street firms have been acquiring mathematicians and physicists to concoct customised derivatives and algorithms that few others outside of a select group of quants can fully understand.

And remember the damage that Wall Street CDO's, that were specifically rigged against customers, had done to some of the major banks in Europe, who are not particularly unsophisticated although were perhaps too unsuspected of blatant fraud from name firms. And also let us not forget the cases of bribery of public officials and fund managers with money, sex, and drugs that have been disclosed, such we have seen in the case of Jefferson County, Alabama.

And then there is the ongoing front-running frauds that are the US equity and commodity markets with lax regulation, insider trading, and exchange enabled HFT computerized skimming and spoofing.

What I find almost astounding is that after one of the worst financial frauds in US history, Wall Street and its supporters are able to blithely act as though nothing had happened.   And that is because there has been no real reform and no one has been prosecuted.  That is what is known as 'moral hazard.' 

I found Naked Capitalism's take on this to be very interesting.  What Greg Smith Did Not Say and Some Guesses Why

I do think there is a point to be made in not doing business with Goldman at all.  But as Greg points out, if one wishes access to certain types of products and the broader financial markets, there is much less choice now than there was even four years ago.   And Wall Street has its hands in everyone's pockets, whether you do business with them or not, in this financialised economy. 

I don't think Greg Smith is a whistleblower per se, or even puts himself out there as such in the manner of revealing the details of some very specific illegal act.

At the end of the day, Greg Smith is raising the same category of concerns about the financial system as Occupy Wall Street has done, the same alarm and even revulsion with a culture that has turned predatory rather than constructive, about organizations and a society that are losing their moral bearings to the point of undermining their own rational self-interest with short-term greed.

And Mr. Smith is being derided and dismissed in much the same manner as many of the same people dismissed OWS.

The problem with Wall Street is the essential conflicts that were created by merging the functions of customer-serving banks, which are essentially utilities, with the most aggressive and even abusive of investment banks acting as hedge funds for their own books.  The repeal of Glass-Steagall was the watershed event, and it was the result of a massive lobbying effort that corrupted Washington with Wall Street money.

And when a speculative firm like the pre-IPO Goldman moved from a true partnership model, to publicly traded firms using other people's money and shifting liability to the corporation, Pandora's box was opened.  And this is a despicable lapse in stewardship by the intellectual, financial, and political leadership of the country for which they should be ashamed.