How Goldman Sachs is still running New Jersey

By Felix Salmon
February 24, 2011
Step up, Mr Squid:

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Who is responsible for turning New Jersey governor Chris Christie from an uninspiring and inchoate peddler of conservative platitudes into the major anti-union force that he is today? Step up, Mr Squid:

Christie won by about four points on Election Night in 2009, with little notion of what he was going to do next. When I asked him if there was any one moment of clarity that put him on the path from cautious candidate to union-bashing conservative hero, Christie pointed to a meeting about a month into the transition, when his aides came to him brandishing an analysis of the state’s cash flow produced by Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs, of course, is the company where the CEO recently said of his employees that “If we could do it, we would have their bonus be 100 percent of their comp” — in other words, no salary whatsoever, no job security, give all the power to management and give the workers no rights at all.

All of which makes Christie’s improbable victory over former Goldman chairman Jon Corzine so much more ironic. Only someone who has beaten a squid himself, it seems, is capable of taking Goldman’s advice to its logical conclusions.

14 comments

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oh Felix. of all your populist pandering posts, this one takes the cake. So now you’re complaining about GS wanting to make pay performance based instead of guaranteed? pretty ironic – isn’t it?

ps – you have a typo in the post – you meant CHristie’s victory over former GS chairman Jon Corzine.

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

Felix, please refrain from posting about GS until you learn what a bespoke credit derivative is. Sincerely, The Investment Community Still Wiping Our A** With Your Abacus Blog Posts

Posted by TinyOne | Report as abusive

When the governor of New Jersey becomes the guiding light of the national GOP, it kinda makes you miss Dan Quayle a little, don’t it?

Posted by EricVincent | Report as abusive

Why on earth would you force an industry with highly variable earnings to pay more fixed compensation.

This increases the incentive to mass fire during bad times.

This decreaces the rewards which flow to top producers.

Higher base pay relitive to bonus pay is exactly the opposite direction we should want walstreet to go.

Posted by y2kurtus | Report as abusive

Mr. Salmon: another Squidmark supporting your headline: “Todd Christie earned more than $60 million when his stock specialist firm was bought by the investment bank Goldman Sachs in 2000.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/nyregi on/06todd.html

TinyOne, as agent for “The Investment Community et al.:” My definition of “bespoke credit derivative” is “the truck that collided, and drove away, with 35% of my father’s retirement savings.” I admit that I didn’t get a good look at the license plate. Some of us, in fact, are still trying to find our own a**es with all the assorted Abacus and other goat poo that The Investment Community has been working so diligently to fling at us for the past few decades — as my 85 yr old friend says, “The Unholy Trinity: Stupid, Arrogant, and Hard-Working.” Why doesn’t The Investment Community take a few decades off now, and we’ll try to muddle through without you?

KidDynamite: If I understand you correctly, you are not accusing Mr. Salmon of being a distasteful “populist” himself, you are accusing him of “pandering” to distasteful “populists.” What is your Venn diagram of the world? A tiny slice composed of investment bankers; a tiny slice of panderers; and then a massive glob of “populists?” Am I a distasteful “populist” solely because (i) I live (Exit 4) in a state where the last chief executive to leave this state a smoking fiscal hole was a Goldman Sachs guy, the last US Treasury Secretary to leave this country a smoking fiscal hole was a Goldman Sachs guy, and (ii) I am less than enthused at the prospect of the current chief executive of this state (A) being the brother of a guy with close Goldman Sachs ties and (B) evidently relying on Goldman Sachs-generated spreadsheets to make his decisions about the “shared sacrifices” the distasteful “populists” in our state are going to have to make?

I’m no populist. I am a commercial real estate lawyer. I was even once a registered Republican. I’m not interested in seeing Goldman Sachs tarred and feathered (well, OK, maybe a tiny bit). I’m interested in seeing Goldman Sachs and The Investment Community either (y) exercise some leadership that benefits some part of this society other than the top 1%, or (z) get out of the way and let someone else do it. Even the sociopaths who led our business community in the late 19th century would toss society a frickin’ bone every now and then, such as a bunch of libraries. The sociopaths who lead our financial community today seem like they won’t rest until there’s not a library left. People talk endlessly of the failures of government and the failures of labor in this country, and they’ve got no argument with me. But what about the failures of management? The ones who have really let this country down since 1980 are our business leaders, who have been focused like a laser beam on stripping off and liquidating US assets, eliminating “head count” in the US, and increasing their own personal compensation. And it really is incredibly short-sided: even sociopaths like Henry Ford understood that he wasn’t going to be able to sustain his own wealth if he didn’t pay his workers enough to be able to buy his cars.

Goldman Sachs ties or not, I wish Chris Christie the best of luck, he’s got a tough job, I don’t envy him one bit, and he talks more plainly than his predecessor (although that’s setting the limbo bar quite low indeed). But I’ll hold my applause about his proposed “shared sacrifices” until I see whether he’s willing to require any sacrifices from people who have more money than he does. Given who his brother is and who is handing him his spreadsheets, I won’t hold my breath.

Posted by Hinchman | Report as abusive

hinchman – you can see in my comment that I wasn’t defending GS – I am simply pointing out the obvious: the same people who complain about banker compensation are now complaining that the bankers are being unfairly compensated. That is indeed what Felix was doing in this post – claiming that the evil squid doesn’t treat its workers fairly (quote: “give all the power to management and give the workers no rights at all”. Surely even the populists will be aware enough to notice that contradiction, won’t they? Hey – if you weep for the poor Goldman Sachs workers, then you’ll love this post from Felix. Ah see – I’m not defending GS at all, am I?

So, it’s entirely irrelevant that Chris Christie had some GS produced data. Did Felix disagree with any of the said data? No – of course not – he took the “squid” angle and made an argument that makes little sense in the scheme of the past few years. (just one part of what I’m talking about: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/20 11/01/19/goldmans-monster-financial-cris is-pay-award/ is Felix noting how rich GS’s stock option compensation awards were)

it’s also intensely ironic that you complain about the fiscal state of your state and then complain about the guy who is trying to fix that… just because a research report had GS figures on it. Christie’s success will have little to do with who his handling his spreadsheets – as long as his data is good.

final thought – why was your dad trading credit derivatives? surely that’s what you meant when you accused credit derivatives of driving away with 35% of his retirement savings… I guess you didn’t notice the 100% increase in his retirement savings in the previous handful of years thanks to the same financial engineering…

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

hinchman – one more thought – just look at the absurdity of the allegation here: that GS somehow hotwired Christie into the Governor’s seat…. Even Felix noted that Christie’s opponent, the incumbent, was Corzine – the former Chairman of GS!!! it doesn’t get much more GS than Corzine…

if you believe that Goldmans Sachs has an evil conspiracy to control the state of New Jersey through spreadsheet data, which they used to evict the inside man they already had in control – their former Chairman – well, to me that’s crazy talk.

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

Oh please Kiddynamite et al, the politics is insane. If someone isn’t sucking on the correct teat, GS would very much like to find a new calf. It is how they roll. Chew them up and spit them out. It is that mentality that I believe Felix was referring to.. If not, I surely am and the argument makes sense.

A managerial mentality like GS, where an “employee” is but a number and entirely expendable, with a preference for them living and working in fear and vying for compensation rather then a salary or stability. Felix was not referring to his previous posts, because they have nothing to do with this topic, although your reference to them is reminding people what greedy jerks GS have been … Good on ya!

Using the spread sheet/economist input/ union input and discussions/ideas from many different sources means the outcome is more innovative and would be more likely to spread the hurt. When you take bargainign power and money from teachers, you are saying that teachers are not worthy of those bonuses or to a say in their future or their students needs.

However, they are worthy indeed and New Jersey (and indeed Wisconsin)will be on a slippery slope as they attack this one hard working group. The state rankings will suffer and degrade yearly, whether the governor wishes to discount such things or not.

Unlike the governor’s disgusting and childlike remarks belittling the teachers, most people are aware that returning teaching to a job that pays poorly and garners little respect, means you will not attract good teachers as the profession has been devalued.

A read of the following post might give more insight and stats. It is this kind of information that the governor should have considered before targeting teachers, NOT focusing primarily on a spreadsheet from the infamous Goldman Sachs!

http://studentactivism.net/2011/02/21/te achers-unions-actsat-and-student-perform ance-is-wisconsin-out-ranking-the-non-un ion-states/

http://www.higheredinfo.org/dbrowser/ind ex.php?measure=23

States that have no collective bargaining
* Virginia was 34th on the SAT with 67% participation, 13th on the ACT with 22% participation.

* Texas was 45th on the SAT with 53% participation, 33rd on the ACT with 33% participation.

* Georgia was 48th on the SAT with 74% participation, 34th on the ACT with 44% participation.

* North Carolina was 38th on the SAT with 63% participation, 20th on the ACT with 16% participation.

* South Carolina was 49th on the SAT with 66% participation, 44th on the ACT with 52% participation.

As a Georgian or Texan might say, ‘your’ welcome…

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

ahhh. Kitty – never disappoints. so, just to be clear – you, hswkitty, feel SORRY for the poor GS employees, right? (this post has nothing at all to do with teachers, by the way)

Kitty – you are EXACTLY who I had in mind when I wrote my comment – and you didn’t let me down. which is it? do you hate GS? or do you feel sorry for them? are they overpaid? or not paid enough? are these workers paid millions for doing a job that is a leech (sorry – SQUID) on society? or are they unfairly taken advantage of and subjected to slavelike labor conditions?

can’t have it both ways…

oh, by the way, the compensation structure on Wall STreet is GENERALLY (can’t say always, but it was ALWAYS in my experience) that employees are paid the minimum amount management thinks they need to pay them in order to keep them from leaving for greener pastures. Which is positively NOT to say that they deserve sympathy, which again, was precisely my point.

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

Sorry kid, but I can have it both ways. I can have it several ways as my thinking isn’t rigidly myopic, nor do I wish it to be. (Although I tend to stray off topic… I had just read the remarks he made about teachers and it stuck in my craw)

As a mother, I think of the young people who are seeking monetary gratification and are mangled in the greedy mess of Wallstreet. As I said, working in fear, then chewed up and spit out, as wrong as that is, I never said I feel sorry for them. If they learned a lesson from it… then perhaps.

As a person with ethics and a humanitarian, I am saddened that society is now burdened with disillusioned yet still greedy young people, who have learned no skills in their employment,other then to manipulate money at all costs, with no regard for the rest of society.

As someone who lost money even in my lowest risk investments and retirement funds because GS and other wallstreet banks are ensconced in just about every Investment’s diversified portfolio, yes, I do very much dislike and distrust Goldman and Wallstreet. I don’t feel sorry for them one iota. They are bankster bullies with a grandiose God complex.

Overpaid? Generally yes. Are they an asset to society? For the huge majority of society, no. Are they worthy of the bonuses? In light of the “actual” economic status, hell no. In a world where wallsteret was playing casino with only the rich, I could give a flying donut what the extra compensation was and just rolled my eyes. But the greed had an effect that was far reaching and continues to spread faster then a virus; they deserve the mistrust.

So I am glad your point was to say GS do not deserve sympathy. They do not. But their spreadsheets also do not deserve to be the cornerstone of a budget, being GS are money manipulators who do not understand ethics or humanity and would doubtfully care an iota of the future implications and ramifications of the cost cutting. The bottom line is there is more to the bottom line.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Kitty –

my point is simply this: In your most recent comment, you insinuated that young people on wall street (and thus, presumably, Goldman Sachs), are
1) “disillusioned yet still greedy”
2) “learned no skills in their employment,other then to manipulate money at all costs”
3) “with no regard for the rest of society”
4) “overpaid”
5) “not an asset to society (in general)

then, in addition, you blamed GS for losses in even your lowest risk investments.

If you want to hate GS and Wall Street – go ahead – I won’t change your mind. My POINT was that if you have those views, you can’t also view those same people as poor victims who are being taken advantage of and compensated unfairly -which is the line Felix was taking in the post – the poor GS workers being abused by management. NONSENSE.

Since you believe these people add no value, have no skills, and are generally evil (to simplify), you certainly shouldn’t want them to have more guaranteed compensation – you should want it to be performance based. that’s all i’m saying. Felix tried to play the other side of that in the post.

finally, Felix is one of the mainstream writers smart enough to have already written about the concept of judging an argument based on its merits – not on who is presenting it. So, does anyone think that GS had an error in their spreadsheets? Of course not – no one is making any insinuation of the sort -NJ’s financial problems are not a figment of GS’s Evil Imagination, which is why I labeled this “populist pandering” – invoke “THe Squid” and avoid any facts at all…

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive

Unethical is the opposite of ethical, although the result of Wallstreets unethical actions is evil.

You have a great way of choosing words to place in other’s mouths, so let me just reiterate that GS spreadsheets did not deserve to be the cornerstone of a budget, being GS are money manipulators who do not understand ethics or humanity and would doubtfully care an iota of the future implications and ramifications of the cost cutting. (including the monetary repercussions)

Listening to some of Christie’s words, it seems he doesn’t either.

BTW, the spreadsheets indicate bleeding, but a tourniquet is not always the correct response. Unless you are aware of how to stop the bleeding, you can still kill the patient.

Thanks for adding this URL Felix.
http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/02/how -the-servant-became-a-predator-finances- five-fatal-flaws/

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

KidDynamite, got to come to something when a real estate lawyer is looking down our profession….. I wonder how HIS customers are doing? Given it was commercial real estate that was the proximate cause for LEH going under and the world nearly ending surely we should be laying into commercial real estate lawyers no?

Hinchman, allow me to translate your verbose definition of a bespoke credit derivative – “blah blah blah haven’t got a clue”.

Posted by Danny_Black | Report as abusive

Danny_black – my point still seems to be wizzing by peoples’ heads in this thread. I know that hswkitty et all hate GS – I don’t really care. What is hypocritical, ironic, absurd, , is that Felix was demonizing GS in this post for being unfair to their own employees! irony alert… ding ding ding.

Posted by KidDynamite | Report as abusive