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Taibbi's Scream: Stop the Political System That Has Let Goldman Sachs Fleece Us for 90 Years

The sordid story of how Goldman Sachs and Co. engineered bubbles in the economy and made a hefty profit.
 
 
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I hold my hands in front of me to block my line of sight
It seems my eyes are growing tired of staring in the light
The more I see the more I feel the less I want to know
Because if you think to much you'll blow your mind
You might just lose control and scream

-Lyrics to "Scream," by Seven Nations (Kirk McLeod)

 

In Matt Taibbi's vivid and provocative new article in Rolling Stone, "The Great American Bubble Machine," the man absolutely screams. Evoking the image in Edvard Munch's famous Norwegian painting, Taibbi sounds the alarm to American readers as he explores the sordid story of Goldman Sachs and Co. Tracing 90 years of political and market history, Taibbi colorfully describes the firm headquartered at 85 Broad Street as: "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

Such evocative imagery will surely be discounted by some as hysterical or exaggerated, particularly by those whose senses are deadened by the business press or CNBC-style babble. Rather than engage in a dissection of the details, I would like to explore why Taibbi is screaming and ask why he is screaming for all of us in a way we are not seeing elsewhere in the media. In addition to screaming for us, I wonder whether he is also screaming at us. One thing is certain: he is screaming in a way that a healthy press would do in a hysterical time. Goldman Sachs' uncontested success blurring the boundaries between market and state is symbolic of a tremendous malfunction in finance, politics and civil society. That the firm is well-managed by all measures and that some fine, well-meaning individuals work there is beside the point. Taibbi is telling us that the rules are rigged. That we are being abused.

This is a time for vivid outrage.

Taibbi's rage is filling an emotional void. It is a reaction to what is missing after this profound speculative episode that the IMF suggests will cost over $4 trillion in losses on balance sheets and untold trillions in lost output. It is fury over a crisis that is, by any measure, the most profoundly damaging episode since the 1930s (and the Bank for International Settlements Annual Report released this week strongly suggests that the burden on stockholders is far from over).

What is it that leads to screaming? A wonderful passage in John Kenneth Galbraith's A Short History of Financial Euphoria helps explain. Dr. Galbraith seeks to identify the common elements that recur organically in the buildup and aftermath of every financial boom-bust episode:

"The final and common feature of the speculative episode-in stock markets, real estate, art, or junk bonds-is what happens after the inevitable crash. This, invariably, will be a time of anger and recrimination and also of profoundly unsubtle introspection. The anger will fix upon the individuals who were previously most admired for their financial imagination and acuity. Some of them, having been persuaded of their own exemption from confining orthodoxy, will, as noted, have gone beyond the law, and their fall and, occasionally, their incarceration will now be viewed with righteous satisfaction.

There will also be scrutiny of the previously much-praised financial instruments and practices-paper money; implausible securities issues; insider trading; market rigging; more recently, program and index trading that have facilitated and financed the speculation. There will be talk of regulation and reform."

 

Note the elements: anger, recrimination, introspection, law breaking, incarceration, regulation and reform.

 
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