OFF THE GRID

Goldman Sachs: Raise Your Hand If You Still Want to be Rich

Jul 16, 09 | 9:23 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Just when you thought a different day was dawning, and a new rule of reason and order begun, someone starts making money again. As though through alchemy, Goldman Sachs has turned the financial crisis into unimaginable profits.

The rap is that Goldman is sui generis. It gets to make money because it is different from you and me. It has rigged the system. Bernie Madoff is nothing compared to Goldman, which has rigged not just the system, but, according to current conspiracy theories, history itself, so it profits from whatever happens to the markets, good or bad.

And if the fix isn’t in, it’s almost worse. After all we’ve been through, these guys at Goldman are still engaged in high-risk behavior, which, however profitable it is this quarter, will invariably bring us down again.

But for all the shocked, shocked! criticism of Goldman, the problem for reformers, puritans, public sector-ites, egalitarians, and pantywaists is that so many people refuse to see Goldman as unique or dangerous. Instead, Goldman is that all-American model of wealth: if they can do it, I can too. The fear is not that things are going to come crashing down, but that Goldman is the harbinger of things going up—and what if I miss it?

We have two warring impulses:

The backlash against plenty.

The allure of it.

The tension is compounded by the magnitude of this plenty—that we have become so good at making money that when we make it, we make mountains of it. 
 
The new rule of reason and order, a liberal age of responsible regulation, is a lot easier to achieve as long as making money remains an unlikely prospect. But as soon as you get a few bright boys with a new method, so many others want to try their hand. At some point, over the last generation, getting rich become an egalitarian notion. The modern formula, which is the Goldman formula, is that all you need to be is clever enough (and who is going to say "I’m too dumb to make it"?).

The other side, the reformers and public sector-ites, want to make it harder to make money. They want to make it more difficult for people to engage in the high-risk behavior that creates the algebra and inequity of such vast wealth. But part of the problem here is that this is an old-fashioned notion of control—and the controllers can’t keep up with the technology or with people’s cleverness. And, as it happens, if there is money to be made, all but the prissiest of regulators also feels the call of it.

The Goldman numbers are good news: The system that’s evolved over the last generation still works. It can still make you rich. Which is also the bad news.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.





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