In Depth

Lovable Lloyd


TO: Lloyd Blankfein
RE: Winning the Public Relations War

Our predicament is dire. Ordinary Americans wish to control not just our pay but our core values: We at Goldman Sachs have long stood for the right of every prop group to trade against its firm's customers. If we abdicate that right, who are we, deep down? In just the past few days many of us on the Goldman trading floor have wrestled with that question. We believe that rather than rethink our core values we should rethink our relations with the American public. Hence this memo. Your recent nonverbal signals—your habit of passing directly behind my trading desk en route to the elevators, your selection of the urinal adjacent to my own—convince me that you value my thoughts. As it happens, I have recently conducted a thorough study of the culture of mortals—or, as you refer to them, "The Morts." Please take the following ideas in the spirit in which they are intended: a team spirit. There is no "I" in Goldman Sachs, or in me. Nor will there ever be.

GIVE THE MORTS A SMALL, PERHAPS EVEN ILLUSORY, STAKE IN OUR UPSIDE.

We have all seen the effects on the hearts and minds of our government officials and business leaders when they sense that our prosperity might one day be theirs. In the past year Warren Buffett has gone from being a leading critic of Wall Street to the greatest defender of Wall Street bailouts. Him we needed to pay hard cash—most accept less. That's perhaps the most curious trait of these ordinary Americans: You don't need to give them any money to lead them to hope that you might. Take Larry Summers, for instance. We both know that we would never actually employ even this surprisingly intelligent Mort in anything but the most humiliatingly ceremonial role. But he doesn't know that—and thus he has done so much for us.

Obviously, we can never employ large numbers of ordinary Americans. But if you stop for a moment and think like a Mort you will realize that we don't need to. We need only harness two more of his many irrational traits: overconfidence, plus a willingness to ignore the odds—as evidenced by everything from his interest in the Lotto to his belief in what he calls "love."

Each year, for example, Goldman Sachs might announce a grand national competition, much like "American Idol." Finalists will appear before a national television audience to be judged by a panel of three rather ordinary looking Goldman executives. On stage they will perform various Wall Street tricks: negotiating with Tim Geithner, lobbying the Senate Banking Committee, designing securities that blow up, selling bonds to Germans, etc. The winner receives a job at Goldman Sachs. Which brings me to...

GIVE MORTS THE ILLUSION THAT THEY HAVE BEEN ADMITTED INTO OUR REALM, AND CAN NOW TRULY SEE WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO.

The winner of our national competition, for instance, might easily be attached to a small Web-enabled, head-top photographic device. Thus equipped he would become the eyes and ears of Morts everywhere. As he stumbles around our offices, attempting to understand that which is beyond his comprehension, he will no doubt create what ordinary Americans refer to as "comedy." Morts love to laugh, to the point where they interpret our most straightforward remarks as occasions for humor. As we do not respond to comedy, it will not disrupt the flow of our business, and we can encourage it.

Let me say here that I, like every other Goldman trader, have admired the lengths to which you have gone to resemble an ordinary, nonthreatening American. Your conscious decision to forgo muscle definition, along with your persistent hairlessness, has been nothing less than enlightened public relations.

But there is only so much one human being can do, even when that being is more than human. Our employees along this new interface with Mort culture should reinforce your subliminal message. They should be "normal looking" and trained to mimic the Mort's strange, emotional responses to external stimuli.

But the main purpose of any new personal contact with individual Morts is to address what is perhaps our biggest problem: the new belief of ordinary Americans that they now, finally, understand what we do. That our work should be as simple as "facilitating productive enterprise," or "allocating capital." They have lost their former awe; we must restore it. Notice that they do not begrudge professional basketball players their vast salaries: They can see that those players are so unlike themselves as to constitute a different species. As our differences lie below the surface, they are harder for the Morts to perceive. Closer proximity to us, and our complexity, will solve this problem. They will soon weary of trying to comprehend what we do and go looking for another outlet for their personal frustrations. Which brings me to my final thought...

REMIND THE MORTS OF THEIR MORE NATURAL RESENTMENTS.

At the moment they mistrust us, perhaps even despise us, but their feelings toward us are new and thus shallow. They have had 30 years of training in hating their own government (the ultimate example of Mort irrationality). We must remind Morts that we share a common enemy: them.

Lewis is the author, most recently, of Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.

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