The idea that things might just go back to the way they’ve always been on Wall Street is, of course, infuriating to those who had hoped the financial meltdown would be an opportunity for reform. A few days after Goldman reported its second-quarter profits, Eliot Spitzer, a critic of the AIG bailout, tells me: “If all we are getting are newly empowered and capital-rich hedge funds that benefit from market volatility, then we are not only rebuilding the same edifice, but we’re contributing to the underlying rot in our economy.”
In the end, Goldman’s reputation is a luxury they may well be able to do without. Robert Rubin has been privately critical of how the firm has handled the threats to its prestige, and Rogers recently addressed the firm’s reputation in seminars with Goldman staff. But a person who frequently talks to senior executives at Goldman sums up the company’s attitude this way: “If we can push the envelope without D.C. punishing us, we don’t care about our Main Street reputation.” Blankfein in particular is said to be dismissive of the firm’s critics. According to a person close to him, the CEO believes Goldman’s internal problems will disappear once compensation comes back. In other words, money will solve everything.
With enough money, perhaps he can even get the taxpayers off his back. Last week, Blankfein took a stab at assuaging public anger by paying a $1.1 billion return on the government’s $10 billion investment last fall—not a bad profit. It was a shrewd move, a prudent PR investment that prompted a round of stories about the firm’s “generosity to taxpayers.” Feel better?