On March 14, Greg Smith, a high muck-a-muck at Goldman Sachs, not only quit but also did it in the way most of us plebes can only dream of: He wrote a giant scathing op-ed in The New York Times telling his bosses that they stink, Goldman clients that they are screwed, and the world that his former firm makes him ill.
You can sort of imagine him sticking a finger down his throat. “Agh! Agh!”
As a result, he’s been getting a lot of plaudits for his integrity, but the illustration accompanying his piece is more how I see it. The drawing shows a pack of vultures pecking at a carcass. But — bless that cynical art editor — it also shows someone flying away from the pack.
Not some sweet dove clutching an olive branch. Another vulture.
After all, by his own admission, Smith was a golden boy — a fullscholarship Stanford grad and almost a Rhodes scholar. When he joined the ranks of the working man, he did not immediately sign on to the Peace Corps or Teach for America. He went directly to Goldman Sachs, the investment bank that, as “Saturday Night Live” once pointed out, has both the words “gold” and “sacks” in its very name.
Smith writes that he was shocked and dismayed — a mere 12 years in — to find that the bank is out to make scads of money. Did he get off at the wrong floor, thinking he was at Toys for Tots? Wasn’t he surprised to see bankers in the company cafeteria instead of elves? What kind of guy bemoans the “toxic” corporate culture at a place that prides itself on toxic culture (though it probably calls it something else, perhaps “bonus culture” or “success culture” or “the reason people join that particular firm culture”) — where one can make, as Smith reportedly did, $500,000 a year?
Of course, it’s hard to feel sorry for Goldman Sachs. It’s like feeling sorry for John Edwards or BP. Sympathy does not abound. We are the 99 percent, and Goldman’s gold-makers are the 0.00001 percent, who call the 0.00099 percent “ muppets” for being craven enough to do business with them. But even today, many of those so-called muppets are sticking with Goldman because, as Count Count knows, muppets like money, too. And if Goldman delivers, well, everyone’s happy.
Except most of us, who already disliked them for being so rich. And, apparently, Greg Smith.
Reports are that his screed caused a 3.4 percent decline in Goldman’s stock Wednesday, which translates into a $2.15 billion loss. If somehow those missing billions resurfaced on Main Street, I’d cheer. Heck, if laws capped some of the ridiculous profits and bonuses and underhanded practices at Goldman, I’d cheer. But I can’t cheer for Greg Smith, because all he is saying is that greediness is unseemly and it finally got to him.
Note to Smith: Smugness is unseemly, too.
The pundits say that now Smith himself is toxic, that he never will work on Wall Street again. But my guess is that he’ll be scooped up immediately by some clever firm that wants to show how squeaky-clean it is: “We’ve got so little to hide that we let Greg Smith in!”
As that firm’s reputation soars, it will have a bright future — at least for 12 years. After that, the top brass may not want to read the op-ed page of The New York Times.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children ( Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the- Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.”