Goldman Sachs: the bank that thought it ruled the world


Goldman Sachs was ‘doing God’s work’ – but it is now being investigated for fraud. Harry Wilson reports.

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange

 

‘Long-term greedy” was the phrase that Sidney Weinberg, Goldman Sachs’s legendary managing partner from the 1930s to the 1960s, used to describe the American investment bank’s overarching strategy. Such a pious mission statement from a corporate titan would make a modern audience balk. However the phrase neatly encapsulates the way that Goldman Sachs has operated over the past 80 years, a period in which it has risen from being a little-known, slightly scrubby broker to the world’s most profitable, powerful and controversial financial institution.

When Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’s current chairman and chief executive, was caught saying last year that the bank was doing “God’s work”, the contrast between Goldman Sachs’s own view of its business and what the rest of the world thought of it was vividly demonstrated.

His comments came just weeks after the firm was memorably described in an article in Rolling Stone magazine as a “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money”. Doing God’s work is the last thing most think Goldman Sachs is up to.

As Philip Pullman writes in his latest book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, “As soon as men who believe they’re doing God’s will get hold of power, whether it’s a household or a village or in Jerusalem or in Rome itself, the devil enters into them.”

Last Friday, those who believed that the devil was running the show at Goldman Sachs finally received the news they had been waiting for. America’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said that it was investigating the bank for misleading investors in so-called collateralised debt obligations, a complex financial product sold by the bank during the boom years of the Noughties.

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