Instead, Smith is selling a warm, self-congratulatory glow to anyone who thinks that Wall Street used to be great. In some halcyon era, according to this view, Wall Street’s success was great news for employees, for customers and of course for the economy as a whole. And it was great because it was built of great things: “teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients ... It wasn’t just about making money.”
In Smith’s moralistic telling, Goldman’s success was the result of its culture. And as TED has pointed out, that’s a vision of its business that has been sold for a long time, at least since the days of Sidney Weinberg.
There are many ways to describe what "culture" is at Goldman Sachs: a patina, a justification, a means, a way to turn bright, hardworking college grads into profit-generating managing directors. But the key is that this culture was always an ideal that Goldman actively sold to clients and pressed into employees. Having gone through a month of analyst orientation, I can tell you that it is effective and takes a while to wear off.
But when it does wear off, and for me it was sometime after my second year, you realize the extent to which these values are pushed on you -- and who benefits from their sale. The culture of Goldman Sachs is sold for the reasons that anything else is sold. It’s the result, money, that makes any bank tick. Goldman Sachs is no exception.