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Taibbi's Goldman Sachs Story: Those with the Gold, Rule

You know that someone has struck a nerve when everyone on Wall Street is talking about Rolling Stone magazine for the first time in about twenty years. Author Matt Taibbi's article about Goldman Sachs, "The Great American Bubble Machine," is causing quite a ruckus everywhere I turn.

I have had a strange relationship to Goldman Sachs ever since my older sister worked there one summer during college. She came home each day to recount her awe of the mighty machine. In turn, I was immediately repulsed and thought that it must be hogwash. (Full disclosure: I have relatives and friends who currently work at Goldman.)

As I matured in my career in financial services, I came to respect and revile Goldman. This is in large part because they often attract smart, hard-working employees, but for some reason, many of them feel the need to talk about how smart, hard-working and rich they are. This is not an attractive quality.

I once asked a friend who had dealt with Goldman for many years what he thought differentiated them from the other firms. It wasn't their intelligence or work ethic. Rather, more than any other financial organization, he said that Goldman had created a culture that promotes the firm over the employee. If two business units are vying for the same client, they get together and figure out the best solution. I'm sure this collegial environment breaks down sporadically, but it makes sense that without cutthroat back-fighting, an organization can operate more efficiently and productively.

That said, I've been mystified how Goldman seems to possess an almost Teflon-like quality when it comes to managing the obvious conflicts that are rife in their business lines. Are regulators intimidated by the Goldman mystique?

I'm not convinced that Taibbi's conspiracy theory is behind it all, but there's no disputing two facts: (1) Goldman alum populate the government and (2) Taibbi's article is tapping into some feeling that the playing field is not exactly level. It's just a variation of the Golden Rule: those with the gold, rule. In this case, we'll call it the "Goldman Rule".

Image by Flickr User Bullion Vault, cc 2.0