celebrated its tenth anniversary as a public company on Monday with an article alleging a huge conflict of interest posed by a regulator with deep ties to the institution.
The type of scrutiny
focused on former Goldman head and New York
Chairman Stephen Friedman is perhaps the kind of thing Goldman could have avoided if it never had gone public in the first place.
Friedman, wearing his central banker hat, helped Goldman gain quick approval for bank holding company status and generally "shaped Washington's response to the crisis." Meanwhile, he also served on Goldman's board, owned stock in the company and even bought more shares in December -- a savvy move that has made him a bundle of money he almost surely didn't need.
The New York Fed chairman isn't supposed to sit on bank boards or own bank stocks, but this was an unusual situation, because Goldman had to become a bank holding company very suddenly to save it from possible oblivion.
Friedman and others at the New York Fed all say this was not a problem, but Friedman told the
he is stepping down from the New York Fed because he wants to keep owning Goldman shares and sitting on Goldman's board a special waiver allowing him to do while holding onto his position at the New York Fed so will expire at the end of the year.
The Friedman situation may not be a conflict in the sense that I am more likely to go to jail for drinking a beer while sitting on my front stoop than Friedman is for grabbing another couple million bucks by exploiting some legal loophole. But it is still a conflict to Joe the Plumber, or Joe Six Pack, or some plumber- or six-pack type out there. (Work with me folks: it's kinda conflicty!)
And it is just the latest of so many kinda conflicty situations Goldman has found itself in over the last few years.
A few years ago, the big conflict everyone talked about in relation to Goldman was between Goldman business and client business. For a little while, Goldman executives tried saying there was no conflict, and then they started smiling sweetly and saying they were just very good at managing the conflict.
But who cared, really, because they just kept making more money than competitors like
More recently, the conflict has mostly been related to government. Many people are unhappy about the fact, for example, that more than $8 billion in government bailout money passed through
and into Goldman while former Goldman CEO Hank Paulson was Treasury Secretary.
Goldman has really taken a pounding in the press in recent years, thanks to the fact that it makes way more money than its competitors and it has way more alumnae in positions of power. Also troubling is the fact that no one really understands exactly how they make all that money.
But I bet if Goldman has it all to do over again, it wouldn't change much. Goldman went public because it is a money-making virus. It moves inexorably in the direction that will allow it to grow. Specifically, it went public because its traders needed more money which they could use to make even more money.
Will that growth eventually choke on itself and cause the whole beast to die? Maybe.
But if Goldman had not gone public, it would be a different animal entirely: a small, quaint and irrelevant one. Saying Goldman should not have gone public is kind of like saying Clark Kent would have stayed out of trouble if he'd just stuck to journalism.