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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mr. Goldman Goes to Washington

After watching hours of the US House Government Affairs committee on Investigations’ hearing on Goldman Sachs,  I concluded--totally contrary to the disavowals by the Goldman managers who testified--that there was indeed a conflict of interest between Goldman’s proprietary and market-making functions.  By proprietary, I mean a bank trading on its own books beyond simply being the counter-party in its market-making transactions. In their testimony, Goldman managers presumed that all of the bank’s proprietary transactions are part of its market-making role. However, I contend that the bank has been both a market-maker and a player in those markets, and furthermore that the latter function has affected the former in ways that are intended to benefit the bank. That is to say, Goldman Sachs’ financial interest has been put before that of its customers. In some cases, Goldman’s employees refused clients’ requests for shorts related to the housing market so Goldman’s own profits in shorting the market  could be preserved. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said, “There is something unseemly about Goldman betting against the housing market as it is selling housing-related products to its customers.” Sen. Conrad, a more conservative Republican, echoed this sentiment.  The fact that Republicans on the subcommittee joined with Democrats rather than joined in Goldman’s paradigm points to a major disconnect between Wall Street “speak” and the discourse of the general public.  In other words, the financial managers and the politicians were largely talking past each other.  Even so, the two “worlds” can be translated into a common language that nonetheless finds Goldman culpable, while acknowledging some of the managers’ points.  In what follows, I discuss a number of the points raised in the hearing to bear out my contentions here.

The full essay is at "Essays on the Financial Crisis," available at Amazon.