Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goldman, Sachs and Shearer

August 14, 2010, 7:45 a.m.

Given the recent exceptional popularity of "Living Outside the Box; From Thoreau to Ferentz," August 9, 2010, if that's the blog entry you're looking for you can find it here.

Entertainment, Social Commentary and Public Policy
(bought to you by*)

Harry Shearer is one of those guys in Hollywood who has excelled at virtually every form of creative endeavor -- with the possible exception of re-painting the Sistine Chapel.

The fulsome coverage of his career in Wikipedia describes him as "an American actor, comedian, writer, voice artist, musician, author and radio host." That scarcely does his creative and prolific career justice, but it does give you a simplistic sense of its variety and reach. "Harry Shearer," And see his Web site.

Among other things, he is a sensitive observer, and critic, of the American scene. As such, he is a contributor to the hundreds of years of involvement of entertainment in general, and music in particular, in the cause of social commentary and "activism" -- which is just another word for "democracy." The Sixties -- both the 1860s and the 1960s have been such times, with the hidden messages in Spirituals, and less well-disguised approach of the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in the 1960s, John Stewart's "Daily Show" today, and Pete Seeger seemingly having been singing forever.

Another example, provided by Harry Shearer, and all too effectively hidden within his creative outpouring in my view, is a little song he wrote, recorded and released October 6, 2009, about the financial collapse in general and Goldman Sachs in particular. In it, he succeeds in explaining both what was going on, and the attitudes of those engaged in it -- which seem to me to bear at least some similarity to those exhibited in the ten year old movie "Boiler Room" (2000) and 1987 film "Wall Street" (from which the video clip, above, of the Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) "greed is good" speech is taken).

The song is not exactly today's news, "more's the pity," and that's a part of my concern. Goldman Sachs' role in the global financial collapse from which we have yet to emerge -- like the BP's pollution of the Gulf of Mexico -- are seen by the corporations involved, as well as the media, as a "public relations" challenge. The solution? (1) Produce and televise some slick commercials proclaiming your sincerity and sorrow, and perhaps pay to underwrite some CPB programming. (I once proposed the best way to fund public broadcasting would be for the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to file more law suits, because every time it filed one the corporate defendant inevitably got its face out there as a "good guy" by funding a PBS or NPR program.) (2) Just wait it out; ultimately the public (and their representatives) will forget about it, having shifted their focus to a more current crisis.

Music, humor, films, and other forms of entertainment can stand and fight that tendency. (I recently watched a "Boiler Room" DVD again.) And Harry Shearer's "Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs" lively tune and lyrics keep running through my mind long after I've forgotten exactly what it was the New York Times' stories and editorials detailed about the firm's abuses.

The song is available from, iTunes and Amazon for 99 cents, and I recommend you give it a listen.

Its energized beat and bouncy and irreverent delivery can't be communicated by the lyrics alone. But here they are anyway, to give you a sense of the message. [If Harry Shearer wants me to remove them from this blog entry I will, of course, do so. But with no advertising on my blog, I have nothing to gain by making them available, and anyone who was a potential purchaser of the song before should be more, rather than less, likely to be so now. And if you find, and can correct, any errors in my transcription please put them in a comment on this blog entry.]

So here it is, . . .

"Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs"
Harry Shearer

When Mr. Goldman met Mr. Sachs
Business ran on railroad tracks
The world was simpler, you can't forget
When Mr. Sachs and Goldman met

Said Mr. Goldman, "For years and years,
Our guys have got the most between the ears"
Said Mr. Sachs, "Let's unhook some reigns,
And find new ways to profit off our traders' brains"

Spinning gold out of flax,
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Spinning gold out of flax,
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

"Up to the Clintons," says Sachs with glee,
"Our former chief now runs the Treasury"
Slapped Mr. Goldman to Mr. Sachs,
"Everything's OK, we can relax"

"We're blowing bubbles," Mr. Goldman crowed,
"We making money out of money owed"
"On Wall Street our names should be up on plaques,"
Bubbled Mr. Goldman to Mr. Sachs

Balls so big they stretched the slacks
Of Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Balls so big they stretched the slacks
Of Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

"The century's turning," Mr. Sachs opined,
"Our new kind of trains boggle the mind"
Bragged Mr. Goldman with a toss of his head,
"One of our guys runs the New York Fed"

Noted Mr. Sachs as the market soared,
"We're totally wired in each department and board"
"We regulate ourselves, the wind's at our backs,"
Said the jolly Mr. Goldman to a blithe Mr. Sachs

Their regulators are really claques,
For Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Their regulators are really claques,
For Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Said Mr. Goldman to Mr. Sachs,
"This sly little system is showing some cracks"
Mr. Sachs to Mr. Goldman said,
"We got it covered, go back to bed"

The hustle’s urbane Mr. Sachs recalled,
"We may get a haircut, but we won't go bald"
"Any bailout move will be comfy and lax,"
Mr. Goldman was reassured by Mr. Sachs

"Bear Stearns went down," Mr. Sachs told his friend,
"And Lehman Brothers met a harsher end"
"Merrill Lynch was sold off by a fax,"
A dour Mr. Goldman told Mr. Sachs

"It's time," Mr. Goldman said, "to pull some rank"
So presto, said Mr. Sachs, "We'll become a bank"
"We'll be covered by the payers of tax,"
Exhaulted Mr. Goldman to Mr. Sachs

Mr. Sachs explained, "We're insured by AIG"
Mr. Goldman responded, "That's fine with me"
"Our risky bets will be paid off in full,"
Said Mr. Goldman, more than ever a raging bull

"Unemployment is rising," Mr. Goldman observes
But their partnership is still riding on nerves
"Profits in the billions, ignore the attacks,"
Says a flush Mr. Goldman to a flush Mr. Sachs

Spinning gold out of flax
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Spinning gold out of flax
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Spinning gold out of flax
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Spinning gold out of flax
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs

Spinning gold out of flax
Mr. Goldman and Mr. Sachs
And now to return to what some will consider the more mundane approach to economics policy, consider these excerpts -- and the column in its entirety: Froma Harrop, "Regulation Made Canada Fat and Happy,", August 12, 2010 (copyright by the Providence Journal and reprinted in numerous newspapers around the country):

Suppose the U.S. government had posted a budget surplus in 12 of the past 13 years. Suppose not a single major American financial institution had failed or needed a government bailout. Suppose the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 6.1 percent in the first quarter of this year, rather than at 2.7 percent.

Wouldn't that make you happy?

These cheering economic indicators happen to be reality in Canada. They did not come about because Canadians are more virtuous or they don't have subprime mortgages (they do) or they didn't keep interest rates very low (their rates were much like ours). What Canada had was a civic culture that wanted government to regulate financial activity.

What we have is an elite willing to risk everyone else's economic security to enable a few hotshots to win big at the casino of recklessness and fraud — while maintaining a variety of taxpayer backstops to reduce their risks. The joint never gets closed, also thanks to the large numbers of ordinary citizens trained to holler "socialism" every time the government tries to set a ground rule. A satanic belief in the rightness of free markets to punish the unsophisticated almost halted the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. . . .

So how are Canadian businesses doing these days relative to ours? It's true that the Standard & Poor's index of 500 large U.S. companies has done pretty well this year. But the Toronto exchange's index of large-cap Canadian stocks did 27 percent better.

Periodic booms and busts don't have to be Americans' fate. Some people get very rich off them. But for ordinary folk, slow and steady wins the race. Support for letting government install some speed bumps to enhance their financial stability has left Canadians fat and happy. We could live the same way.
As we reflect upon Wall Street's role in our global economic collapse we have options: we can sing about it, laugh about it, cry about it, or read and write public policy analyses and essays. Unfortunately (to return to singing about it), as in "you can't win, you can't break even, and you can't get out of the game," Simon and Garfunkel clarified our situation in "Mrs. Robinson,"
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Ev'ry way you look at it, you lose
"And that's," as Walter Cronkite used to say, "the way it is, Saturday morning, August 14, 2010" (unless, as Ms. Harrop informs us, you move to Canada). ["Walter Cronkite," ("Cronkite is well known for his departing catchphrase 'And that's the way it is,' followed by the date on which the appearance is aired.")]

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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Nick said...

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-- Nick

Anonymous said...

Nice piece Nick.

Was hoping for your take on Tom Vilsack's latest mess in DC. He appeared to be a rather careless governor, which lead to the entire board of regents take over by Welmark and the damage to the state's institutions we see yet today. Now he fired the women based on right wing propaganda then re-offered here a job which she politely declined yesterday.

Vilsack is a walking disaster..would expect Obama to oust him either right before or rith after the Nov elections.