Leading Article: Don't gripe at Goldman Sachs

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The Independent Culture
WE WONDER what the ballot paper looked like. "Yes, I would like pounds 60m. Or: No, I think it is important to retain the distinctive qualities of Goldman Sachs as a partnership." The sums of money involved in floating Wall Street's last privately-owned investment bank are so great that it is tempting to see the weekend's debate among the firm's 190 partners as the cynical sell-out of down-home workers' co-op values. Tempting, but wrong.

Perhaps it is our recent experience of privatisation rip-offs and building- society windfalls which inclines us to jump to the conclusion that anyone making sudden large financial gains must be doing so at the expense of the common good. Or perhaps it is just British snobbery, which doubts the moral probity of sudden enrichment, but morality hardly enters the Goldman Sachs decision matrix. Some of the junior partners may be motivated by simple self-interest, in that they want to cash their chips while they have them, knowing that if they are sacked in the future they will get nothing. But most of them already have more money than any normal person could sensibly spend.

For them, the argument was about the firm's longer-term success. Should it follow the formula of past success, attributed to the fact that, unlike other investment banks, its people were effectively investing their own money? Or did it need the flexibility and power to raise capital of a conventional, shareholder-owned company to compete in world markets?

Those partners who voted to float Goldman Sachs on the stock market were not engaged in larceny. It was not even the case that the assets of Goldman Sachs had been accumulated by past generations of partners, as the firm was in financial difficulties at the end of the 1980s - its astonishing wealth has largely been created in the past eight years. We should celebrate their success and hope they spread the benefits as widely as possible.