It’s 2006, and I was invited to an acrobat show immediately after landing on my first day in Beijing. Jet-lagged, culture-shocked and confused, I remember watching children as young as nine pile on top of each other into a human pyramid so high that the highest kid could touch the lighting rig. There were loud drumbeats, smoke and lasers flashing into the audience (yes, into the audience). But I was not amused.
I saw no benefit in the child-acrobat-pyramid for anyone involved. I also had no desire to watch the show, but did so out of obligation. I just wanted to sleep, shower and eat somewhere, and was left thinking, “what’s the point of all this?”
Money & Power describes Goldman Sachs as exactly that: white men scrambling up a proverbial pyramid for no particular reason. The book starts as a story of German Jews making money intelligently by selling “paper”, i.e. short-term loans. However, by the middle of the book (about 1970), the purpose of Goldman Sachs’ existence seems to have been forgotten, or relegated to “self-preservation”. The story increasingly resembles the acrobat show I saw in 2006.
What amazes me is that none of the characters in this book consider retirement even though they’re all rich enough to do so. Goldman Sachs sucks MBA students in like a demonic cult. It hijacks their souls, makes them feel worthless without the firm, and lets them have no life outside. They work regularly past midnight. Divorce rates are sky-high. Although underplayed in the book, staff are locked in psychologically with cocaine and company visits to strip clubs. Goldman Sachs seems even stronger than the military (even stronger than Scientology) in its ability to accumulate souls. Goldman Sachs even has a “Concierge”, which does laundry on-premises for its staff. Real life must look terrible from the inside.
As the Goldman Sachs pyramid grows, the firm becomes increasingly detached from reality. Goldman traders start making billion-dollar bets with fictitious money (50:1 leverage), and any losses, of course, must be paid for using real money (that’s when they take your house). I am still left asking, “what’s the point of all this?”
But by December 2006, my “white, male pyramid folly” description had become too kind. The firm’s existence had already surpassed “meaninglessness” and trespassed into “malevolence”. By betting hugely against its own customers in 2006, Goldman Sachs had become a cancer (or as some would say, “too big to fail”).
Portrayal of Hank Paulson is bizarrely flattering. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t chase women, stays healthy and sticks to his faith. The book then doesn’t dwell much on how he swindled government for billions of dollars in bailout money. His influence may have permeated this book before it went to print.
My favourite quote backs up how laughably white and male this
firm pyramid scheme is. In a defence against accusations of only hiring white men, Goldman announced:
“13.9% of our staff are either black, female, Oriental, Native American [just one man] or have a Spanish-sounding surname” — Goldman Sachs
That’s because women don’t like strip clubs, and only white people like cocaine. The book goes on to state that:
“Only one trader was black. All the others were… janitors”.
The most interesting part were the personal testimonies of the firm’s very few female employees. Blatant, childish sexism. Men gang up to bully female staff.
Goldman Sachs is a large part of the culty, fratty, misogynistic, racist, cancerous pyramid that runs America. Does America have a planned economy? Yes. It’s planned at the whims of well-connected, self-interested, cocaine-snorting, strip-club-frequenting, misogynistic, psychopathic pranksters. And they hate you.
This book taught me never to climb pyramids. There’s nothing at the top, the structure is useless (a folly) and most people die on the way up. It’s very well-researched and very-well written, however. ★★★