i've got the goldman ticket

What’s the Matter With Goldman Sachs?

Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs speaks at the
We do not appreciate your “humor,” Mr. President. Photo: ? LAN/Corbis

The Wall Street Journal is out with a story today that should not shock you, seeing as it is about a group of (mostly) white (mostly) men with significant personal wealth who have woken up to the fact that a Romney presidency would be better for them than four more years of Obama.

Still, the group in question is Goldman Sachs, so everybody pay attention!

The main thrust of the Journal’s article is that Goldman Sachs has undergone a massive shift, from supporting the Obama campaign in ‘08 to digging deep for Romney in ‘12, after it became the butt of one too many jokes:

Employees at Goldman donated more than $1 million to Mr. Obama when he first ran for president. This election, they have given the president’s campaign $136,000—less than Mr. Obama has collected from employees of the State Department. The employees have contributed nothing to the leading Democratic super PAC supporting his re-election.

By contrast, Goldman employees have given Mr. Romney’s campaign $900,000, plus another $900,000 to the super PAC founded to help him.

Now, put aside the fact that those numbers represent fairly trivial amounts of money, relative to Goldman’s size and number of employees. ($900,000, for example, represents about $25 per employee — Goldman probably spends more on toner cartridges.)

What’s interesting, if you’re looking at the shift of resources from one camp to the other, is the extent to which Goldman employees seem to be arriving rather late to a fairly obvious view of external circumstances.

The fact is that four years ago, Goldman employees as a group were better off. They’d escaped the worst of the financial crisis, kept their jobs, and were respected in power corridors from Wall Street to Washington. There was no “vampire squid” yet; in fact, most Americans had never heard of Goldman Sachs. And their compensation hadn’t fallen all that much, relative to pre-crisis highs.

Today, of course, the view from 200 West Street is different. Goldman is still the toast of Wall Street, but it has also been Occupied, flambéed in the media, and hauled in front of Congress to explain its role in the Abacus CDS debacle. The bank has undergone layoffs and cost-cuts. And all those things have taken a psychic toll on Goldman workers, who can no longer count on their employer’s name to validate them in every social setting. (I know one Goldmanite who, in the wake of the Abacus hearings, began telling people at bars that he was a consultant to avoid starting fights.)

None of those things are, strictly speaking, Obama’s fault. Sure, the Abacus hearings were embarrassing, but that was Congress, not the White House. Sure, “fat cats” and the Volcker Rule hurt Wall Street’s feelings and profitability, respectively, but neither singles out Goldman. Sure, the president made a lame joke about Goldman at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but Wall Street has told much harder-hitting jokes about itself.

What’s really bothering Goldman’s employees, then, is that their old, 2008-vintage respectability has all but disappeared. (Heck, Lloyd can’t even be trusted to solve the deficit puzzle!) And that sense, combined with the fairly obvious conclusion that almost any high-earning investment bank employee would be better off, tax-wise, under a Romney administration, has led them to take action against the incumbent.

None of this is shocking. In fact, in the Thomas Frank sense, the bank’s ‘08 donations are the true anomaly. Four years ago, Goldman employees knew Obama would raise taxes on high-income earners and clamp down on regulation, and many of them gave to him anyway, either because he appealed to them personally or because they were scared that John McCain would blow up the economy. This year, faced with the choice between the administration that oversaw the destruction of their halos or a guy who will keep their taxes low, they’re reverting to self-interest.