I’ve been studying this Goldman Sachs thing all weekend, and wow: it looks like the Dreaded Shit Hammer of Accountability might finally be falling on the herd of venal Wall Street swine that engineered and profited from the catastrophic economic collapse of 2008:
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was sued by U.S. regulators for fraud tied to collateralized debt obligations that contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The firm’s shares tumbled 13 percent and financial stocks slumped.
Goldman Sachs created and sold CDOs linked to subprime mortgages in early 2007, as the U.S. housing market faltered, without disclosing that hedge fund Paulson & Co. helped pick the underlying securities and bet against the vehicles, the Securities and Exchange Commission said today. Billionaire John Paulson’s firm earned $1 billion on the trade and wasn’t accused of wrongdoing. The SEC also sued Fabrice Tourre, a Goldman Sachs vice president who helped create the CDOs, known as Abacus.
Without delving into the mechanics of CDOs, credit default swaps and other investment scams that make my eyes glaze over with incomprehension, my understanding of what these greed-crazed douchebags were up to can be analogized as follows:
Imagine a building contractor who builds a beautiful new home in which he’s purposely installed faulty wiring, and for insulation he’s used some explosively flammable substance like shredded cedar. He then takes out fire insurance on it — facilitated by the insurance company’s home inspector, who knows the house doesn’t make the cut but gets a few bucks from the contractor to give it a passing grade anyway. Then the house is sold to some unsuspecting home buyer. After the inevitable fire, the insurance company pays out the contractor’s claim — so he’s been paid twice, once when he sold the house and once from the insurance. The poor suckers who bought the house? They die in the blaze.
Goldman Sachs is the building contractor, AIG is the insurance company, and the pension funds of millions of ordinary people are the home buyers who perished in the inferno. Goldman Sachs was betting on the collapse of properties it sold as good investments — “shorting”, which is a perfectly legitimate trading practice, unless you’re the one who’s engineered the collapse. In that case I’m pretty sure it’s a crime.
It’s worth remembering that Goldman Sachs isn’t some scammy little fly-by-night online trading company — they were supposedly the “gold standard” for investment banks. So imagine what the SEC is finding under all the other rocks it’s presumably turning over. If a gang of greedhead pigs is finally held accountable for their contribution to an economic cataclysm, that’s great, but I wonder what the uncertainty might do to a fragile market that’s been crippling its way towards recovery since the crash. I have the queasy feeling that the other shoe is about to drop, and it could be heavy.