Why [no one really cares that] I left Goldman Sachs

In March of this year, Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” in which he outlined his decision to end a 12-year tenure with one of the most successful investment banks in the world. In that declaration — which I wrote about back when I reviewed Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia — Smith put the fault on a shifting Goldman culture, where “the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.”

Critics called Smith’s op-ed naive, but I found it decently badass, and so was fairly excited for Why I Left Goldman Sachs, the book. It held the allure of additional juicy Goldman tidbits — like the Times essay’s disclosure that clients were often referred to as “muppets” — and other embarrassing examples of the kind of corporate greed and financial whimsy that lend credibility to the idea of the 99% versus the 1%. I didn’t expect Smith to divulge any massive illegal folly on Goldman’s part, so much as to remind us why we should be angry that these are the people who run the institutions we’ve deemed too big to fail.

Unfortunately, not only does WILGS fail to be particularly earth-shattering with respect to the financial sector, it for the most part fails to be particularly interesting as a book. Smith, a mediocre writer at best, gets lost in the story of his own humdrum advancement at Goldman, and appears to be confused about what does or doesn’t rate as memoir-worthy. While some degree of exposition is to be expected, it’s not until more than halfway through the book that Smith even begins to outline the subject on which its title is based. Nor does the first half feel particularly relevant, except as an overt ploy to qualify his ultimate disillusionment (“Before we get into why I left Goldman, let me explain that I am clearly a smart and awesome person.”) Listen, I don’t care that you took three years of Zulu, Greg. I don’t care that you visited the first-ever Wendy’s, or how good you were at using the trading desk’s time-stamping machine, or where you buy your shirts, unless it’s a shirt store fronting for a purveyor of diamond-encrusted toilets, or something I don’t know, a little more Goldman Sachs.

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The crazies

Call it coincidence, but ever since starting Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, a journalistic exploration of the sociopathic, I’m seeing psychos everywhere.

By psychos I don’t mean the creepy guy on the train who stared at me for literally 28 minutes this morning (I counted), or even the recent string of clearly mentally ill Batman/Muslim-hating shooters. I mean the run-of-the-mill everyday people whose lives involve, or are in some scenarios contingent upon, a complete lack of empathy for the problems, stresses, fears and tragedies of others. And also everyone not on Facebook.

In The Psychopath Test, Ronson investigates historical and current definitions of psychopathy, including the famous Hare Checklist, a 20-point diagnostic tool used to identify psychos. He speaks with Bob Hare, and other psychologists, as well as criminals and other persons who have either been openly accused of psychopathy, or whose personal history indicates some susceptibility to it. Throughout the book, Ronson inserts his own ruminations on the subject, and tries—however casually—to ascertain whether a) current definitions or diagnoses of psychopathy are fair or true and b) psychopathy is as prevalent as some of those definitions might suggest.

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Goldman Suchs

In the world of financial news, last week’s completely badass op-ed from (now former) Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith, titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs” was, well, pretty huge. Like a real-life Jerry Maguire-ing, minus the pilfering of goldfish or a pleasantly pre-surgery Renee Zellweger. Smith’s diatribe—which you should definitely read—basically lamented the moral unhinging of a firm that, if always greedy, at least used to be that way on behalf of its clients.

“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off,” Smith wrote. “Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets,’ sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.”

The op-ed sparked a great deal of backlash, some of it from people who mocked Smith for an alleged naivete about how the banking sector works. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg popped over to Goldman’s offices to reassure them—because doesn’t this firm just scream insecurity?—that he’s still their friend, and Bloomberg News (yes relation) published its own opinion piece scoffing at what they considered Smith’s perception of banks as “existing only to bring light and peace and happiness to the world.”

Me, I was riveted by the whole thing. Not only because Smith broke the first rule of Wall Street—you do not talk [honestly] about Wall Street—but because when the op-ed appeared I was smack in the middle of Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia, a book spawned in part by the Rolling Stone reporter’s now-famous article about Goldman (the source of the also-now-famous “vampire squid” moniker.) It was the nonfiction equivalent of reading Twilight and then having a sparkly vampire show up at your front door, bitching about immortality and the wet-dog smell of all those fucking werewolves. Continue reading “Goldman Suchs”