Hagan also argues that other government programs saved the firm’s bacon:
Salvation came on November 25, a few days after Goldman’s stock price plunged to $52 a share, down from the year’s high of $200 and the lowest price the company had seen since it went public. Again, the white knight was the government. It turned out that Goldman’s conversion to a garden-variety bank-holding company offered an amazing advantage: Goldman now had access to incredibly cheap money. Exploiting its new status, Goldman became the first financial institution to sell $5 billion in government-backed bonds through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which allowed Goldman to start doing deals when the markets were at a near standstill.”Goldman was desperate for it,” says a prominent Goldman alumnus.”Everybody knows it. Those FDIC notes they got were lifesaving because they couldn’t issue any debt. If it had gone on another week or two, Goldman would have failed, they would have gone the way of Lehman, and you’d be talking about Lloyd the way you talk about [Lehman CEO] Dick Fuld.”
It should be noted that Goldman disputes, in no uncertain terms, the notion that it was ever in serious trouble and that it has benefited in particular, directly, from any government help. In this, though, Goldman argues not just against Taibbi but against the whole world.
And Taibbi’s wild-eyed idea that Goldman (he actually uses Goldman as a proxy for Wall Street) played a role in the oil-price bubble of last summer has now received support from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which The Wall Street Journal reported, is set to blame speculators (Goldman isn’t named, but the point is made), not supply and demand.
Second, while some in conventional business journalism may wish to dismiss Taibbi, it’s worth remembering that he is only filling a vacuum left by mainstream outlets themselves. One reason “Bubble” was so shocking, I believe, is that it looks with well-deserved skepticism (okay, red-faced, foaming outrage) on the core business practices of an individual financial institution, by name, and a powerful one at that. Conventional business-press investigations focus too often on marginal infractions, rulebreaking within the game, and too rarely on the game itself. One upside of Taibbi’s approach is its rejection of the false notion peddled by Wall Street and its defenders that crises are like natural disasters, unpreventable and uninfluenced by important actors, political and financial. Just because crises are complicated doesn’t mean individual and institutions didn’t play important roles, and complexity does not give the financial press a pass from its job of calling those actors to account on readers’ behalf. Just the opposite is the case: institutions are decisive, and investigating them is Job One.
As we demonstrated in CJR’s May/June issue, the mainstream media failed in the basic task of singling out out-of-control actors when it might have counted in the years prior to the blow up, particularly during 2004-2006.
And, as we also noted, when the press did perform this basic function in the early part of the decade (in probes of Lehman and its ties to notorious predator First Alliance Mortgage Co., of Citigroup and its acquisition of the rogue Associates First Capital, of Household International, Ameriquest and others) the practices were brought to heel. This was not a coincidence.
Third, like it or not, “Bubble Machine” is an important breakthrough for muckraking alt-media—the non-experts, the anti-business press—in the financial space. Other alts have done good work, which we’ve noted. But this wasn’t a bleat from the left. It was a sonic boom. Look for increased prominence of new players in the financial media, those not steeped in conventional business press culture, for worse and mostly for better, not hamstrung by the need to manage long-term relationships with financial institutions, and freer, indeed, incentivized to burn bridges or not to build them at all. Banks, Fed, Treasury, SEC—you are on notice.
Fourth, Taibbi is subtler than critics give him credit for. The charge is that he pins catastrophes on Goldman alone. But the piece often uses Goldman as a proxy for Wall Street as a whole, and he offers readers plenty of guideposts when he does so.