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Goldman Sachs: Amoral and Oblivious


In today's financial climate, it takes a very special company to be truly hated.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Love It or Hate It, a regular dual-column feature that will capture the love-hate relationship America has with some of its biggest, most controversial companies. For past columns, click here. For the opposing view on Goldman Sachs, see Goldman Sachs: They've Earned It.

It's tough being a leader of an industry that's a magnet for public revulsion. But while Goldman Sachs (GS) had a unique opportunity to resuscitate the banking sector and rebuild its image, instead it has squandered it. In the process, it has tarnished its reputation further, something that would have seemed impossible a year ago.

There are a number of reasons for the not-so-sudden backlash against everyone's favorite whipping boy. Remember last year, when Goldman was holding considerably-devalued AIG (AIG) paper? Despite the fact that the insurance giant and the whole economy was on the brink of collapse, the Feds decided the bank should be paid 100 cents on the dollar for its investment, netting them a multi-billion-dollar windfall.

All of it infuriated the public even more once they saw how well-connected the company was in Washington, what with then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Goldman CEO, overseeing the single largest Wall Street bailout in history.

But alright, let's pretend this was all some sort of fantastic accident.

You still can't justify the nearly $20 billion in bonuses the company's bankers are reportedly set to earn. And this during a period of global turmoil when the very concept of bonuses is considered repulsive and American unemployment is in double digits.

But seeing as how there's no real moral imperative in the industry, let's assume this is all okay. We're giving you the benefit of the doubt here, Goldman. Really, we are.

Facing the oncoming backlash, word came down that Goldman executives were considering a sizeable charitable contribution to offset the heat. That's what inspired the donation. Not, of course, because it's the right thing to do regardless of public perception. (See also, Goldman to Pick Up Small Businesses by Their Shoelaces)

The company's recent books do indeed indicate that they intend to make these contributions. But wouldn't you know it, everyone still hates Goldman. Of course, according to the Daily Beast this past summer, Goldman insiders blamed the backlash on anti-Semitism, so no amount of charitable donations was going to stem the backlash, right?

But just when some people were about to reconsider their views on Goldman in light of this completely disingenuous charitable act, came word that the wives of company bigwigs Lloyd Blankfein and Richard Friedman caused an absolute scene at a Super Saturday shopping spree in the Hamptons. Very déclassé, ladies. It just smacks of undeserved entitlement, doesn't it?

Okay. Let's forget the bailout and the bonuses. Let's forget the company was rewarded for betting on the risky home mortgages that ultimately tanked the economy in the first place. Let's assume all this is somehow latently excusable. Goldman Sachs employees cut in line when H1N1 vaccines were incredibly scarce. Yes, really!

But surely Goldman employees must have been susceptible to swine flu, right? Not unless they were children or pregnant women, the groups most prone to contracting the virus. But what about all those frail, elderly Goldman execs? Wrong, seniors are practically immune to H1N1.

But despite it all, the company reported two record quarters while the majority of Americans lost their homes and their jobs, all the while waiting in line behind Goldman for vital vaccines. So this whole convoluted strategy ultimately worked for Goldman.

This is tough, Goldman. We want to like you, we really do. But you make it impossible for that to happen.

See also, Rags to Riches: Lloyd Blankfein.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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