Goldman Sachs on the Hill

Watching the executives of Goldman Sachs testify before Congress yesterday brought back a distant memory. They looked exactly like the tobacco company executives did when they were hauled before Congress years ago. They, too, seemed utterly ignorant of their own wrong-doing. They too were evasive and slightly condescending in their answers. They, too, had been caught doing very bad, possibly criminal, things, knew they had been caught, and they knew the elected representatives of the people knew they had done the catching, but none of that provoked even the slightest hint of remorse. Alas, no wonder greed is rightly deemed one of the seven deadly sins. These men were dead to the moral impulses of their nature.

I was especially mystified by the answers provided by the chief executive officer, Lloyd Blankfein. Better to say the lack of answers. He pleaded ignorance to the goings-on of his own company so many times, one wondered if there was not a case of mistaken identity, if there might be another, different Lloyd Blankfein who ran Goldman Sachs and this poor fellow was really a sous chef at a local eatery. But, of course, Mr. Blankfein is no dummy. He runs the most successful Wall Street firm in history. He was not ignorant. He was lawyered up.

The most disconcerting thing was the sheer indifference to the consequences of their own actions displayed by the Wall Street giants. They could not answer a simple yes-or-no question about whether or not they owed their customers a minimum standard of honesty. Indifference to the suffering one causes is the height of moral callousness.

There is only one remedy. Throw the book at these evil men – and they were all men. Keep searching until you find the grounds on which to prosecute them and throw them into jail. At the very least, they should be removed from their positions, and their enormous salaries and bonuses, and barred from ever again plying their trade. Because one thing did become clear yesterday. For these men, their trade was not derivatives. They are bookies and their betting days should be ended.

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