Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 27, 2017

A letter to Goldman Sachs C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein

Filed under: Goldman Sachs — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

Lloyd Blankfein

Dear Mr. Blankfein,

I usually delete emails sent to me as a Goldman Sachs alumnus unread but I was curious to read your recent letter to shareholders since I suspected that it would address the large presence of past and present Goldman employees in the Trump administration, including Steve Bannon who by most accounts is serving as Rasputin to Trump’s Czar Nicholas.

I really have no idea who the typical Goldman  shareholder is but I suspect most of them would be okay with Bannon being exposed as a serial killer if the value of their stock increased handsomely in the next quarter, as I am sure it will with a White House having such incestuous relations with your firm.

You put the best possible spin for your second-in-command becoming one of Trump’s top economic advisers:

This past December, then–U.S. President-elect Donald Trump appointed Gary Cohn, then our president and chief operating officer, director of the National Economic Council. Gary was responsible for developing and leading many of the firm’s most important initiatives, and demonstrated a deep commitment to our clients, our people and the culture of Goldman Sachs.

We have been criticized for the fact that some of our colleagues, after long careers at the firm, have moved to work in the public sector. The charge is that Goldman Sachs is able to extract certain advantages that others cannot. In fact, the opposite is true. Those in government bend over backward to avoid any perception of favoritism.

This, of course, is nonsense. Cohn was hired by Trump to gut financial regulations, including Dodd-Frank that was Obama’s weak-tea answer to Wall Street greed and criminality. To illustrate what a con job the Democrats were involved with in “taming Wall Street”, mogul banker Anthony Scaramucci, who was a fundraiser for Obama and then joined Cohn as a Trump economic adviser, has compared a regulation that required investment firms to act in the best interest of their clients to the Dred Scott decision. That’s almost as crazy as Stephen Schwarzman comparing Obama’s proposal to increase taxation on “carried interest” profits to Hitler invading Poland. Did working on Wall Street make these people crazy or were they crazy to begin with?

To reassure your shareholders that you are not complete knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing Breitbart.com reactionaries, you point out that you have joined the tech industry in opposing Trump’s Islamophobic immigration bans. While nobody would gainsay the right of Microsoft or Goldman Sachs to hire a top software engineer or investment banker from Somalia or Yemen, I doubt that there’s much of a pool of such talent to begin with.

Once you penetrate through other bromides about how Goldman Sachs is the next best thing to the Catholic Workers, you get to the statement that is what they call the takeaway:

Putting aside one’s individual politics, the outcome of the U.S. election raises the possibility of more stimulative tax and regulatory policies, as well as plans for more infrastructure spending. This represents a substantial change in direction for the U.S., and offers many investors and companies a reason for optimism.

A reason for optimism? My god, are you are out of your mind, Mr. Blankfein? Scientists have concluded that climate change is threatening a sixth extinction. You really need to read Naomi Klein or even watch Al Gore’s documentary. By seeing everything through the cash nexus, you are losing the thread.

In 2012, Forbes reported that despite a $50 billion loss, Hurricane Sandy that some scientists link to climate change may end up being “beneficial” for the American economy according to Goldman Sachs. Why? Because, among other things, it will be good for the construction industry that will be rebuilding flooded away houses. This is like saying WWII was a good thing because it allowed American investors to reap huge profits from rebuilding Japan and Germany.

In terms of stimulative tax policies (ie., cuts), the result will be another step in the direction of “starving the beast”, as Grover Norquist put it. Back in 2015, Norquist stated that Trump’s tax plan was consistent with his Taxpayer Protection Pledge. As should be obvious from Trump’s proposed budget, just about everything except the military and police will lose funding. Among the hardest hit victim be the Department of Education, which is facing a 14 percent cut as opposed to the military that is getting a 10 percent raise.

It is through the Department of Education that students receive Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid. Don’t you understand that the U.S. needs an educated work force to support medical research, technological innovation including robotics and other missions critical to the functioning of a capitalist economy including a fresh supply of managers loyal to your values?

We’ve certainly come a long way from the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 that established land-grant universities that established the flagship universities such as the U. of Wisconsin and U. of California, Berkeley. That Trump’s ally Scott Walker, who does not have a college degree, has laid siege to the U. of Wisconsin and that Trump himself has threatened a cut in funding to Berkeley for its stance on protecting undocumented immigrant students should give you some idea of how little interest the “stimulative” White House has in defending the long-term interests of American capitalism.

Furthermore, the assault on environmental standards will only lead to an outbreak of illnesses caused by toxins in the water we drink and the air we breathe. The EPA’s new chief Scott Pruitt has a long record of opposing environmental regulations. Not only is he a climate change denialist; he dissolved the Oklahoma Environmental Protection Unit after becoming the state’s Attorney General in 2014. He also sued the EPA to block its Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States rule. Aren’t you aware that your children and your grandchildren are vulnerable to illnesses caused by pollutants? Since you have been stricken with lymphoma, I’d think you’d be up in arms over a corporate pollution defender like Pruitt looking after our interests. The U. of California at Irvine conducted a study that linked heavy air pollution in a Canadian area with cancer spikes. They found that the number of men with leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma spiked in areas closer to heavy pollution. Is a “stimulative” economy worth all that?

One of the questions I have discussed with leftist friends over the years is why billionaires like yourself have so little interest apparently in the long-term prospects of capitalism. I’ve said in these chats that if I were a hedge fund billionaire, I’d not be able to sleep at night worrying over the threats to future profits posed by an environmental crisis that is being fueled by short-term profit seeking. You seem to symbolize this conundrum more than any member of the capitalist class I can think of. Your inability to understand and act on this speeding, out-of-control locomotive filled with a pandora’s box of ills, including nuclear weapons, has one benefit, I guess. It will prove so alarming that many young people will make the decision I made in 1967 when the war in Vietnam was out-of-control: to become a socialist and change the system in order to prevent a catastrophe not of our making.

Yours truly,

Louis N. Proyect (Goldman Sachs 1987-1990)


  1. Love it. “…the next best thing to the Catholic Workers” cracked me up. And yeah, isn’t it weird how stultifying the short-term profit orientation is? Otherwise technically-competent people slide right out of the realm of reason. Keep up the good work, Louis.

    Comment by MB — March 27, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

  2. And there isn’t even any “stimulus” from Trump’s so-called infrastructure investment plan. The Trump gang is actually committing exactly zero dollars to their bogus $1 trillion program. Rather, they intend to give tax breaks to developers that they claim will result in $1 trillion of private-sector investment. Goldman Sachs, I am certain, intends to profit off the privatization of public commons that is a component of this “plan.”

    Comment by Systemic Disorder — March 27, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

  3. The ‘e’ and ‘i’ in his last name should be inverted really and there should be a ‘d’ at the end of his last name: Blankfiend.

    Spelling aside, Systemic Disorder is right on the money. Privatized infrastructure building means privatized right of way and privatized profits, along with socialized/externalized costs.

    I actually think that these people *are* thinking about the long-term survival of capitalism; *their* kind of capitalism. The capitalist class has known for some time that the system cannot support the current level of population growth. So, starving off some of the population, and then denying healthcare to increasingly larger portions of the population — while the food supplies are manipulated by the likes of Monsanto — should take care of the ‘excess’ population.

    Meanwhile the trillionaires can consume bottled water, live in enclosed environments where clean oxygen is pumped in (Total Recall style), and an Elysium (the movie) kind of world supports the lifestyles of the super rich, while the rest of us die of poverty, lack of healthcare, malnutrition and of diseases borne of shitty water and poisoned food.

    Comment by Reza — March 27, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

  4. Great letter from a former employee who has been a socialist since 1967, long before their few years at Goldman-Sachs. Thing is, there is no way to get to people like Blankfein by writing comments and letters. He needs to lose something that means the most to him. His wealth.

    Comment by kuhio kane — March 27, 2017 @ 8:36 pm

  5. This letter was not written for Lloyd Blankfein. It was written for my readers and my comrades to amuse and arouse them.

    Comment by louisproyect — March 28, 2017 @ 2:27 am

  6. The capitalism of Lloyd Blankfein, and people like him, is a mental disease, something like an obsessive-compulsive disorder, an addiction (C.G. Jung would have called it a “loss of soul”),. It can’t be cured, except in some cases by barely surviving an Armageddon. More than anything, your letter to Lloyd makes me think of the movie Zardoz (and of all the would-be-Zeds being created by Blankfein and Trump style capitalism: “the gun is good”; and anxious to crash into “our” Vortex).

    Comment by Manuel García, Jr. — March 28, 2017 @ 7:00 am

  7. Dear Manuel,
    That such mental disease is so wide spread is why i do not support democracy (one man one vote) as a means to reach a decision or place some one in a political office. In fact I think that it is irresponsible for anyone who wishes to work for a better society in these times to encourage democratic asperations. In a real democracy criminals, those with mental deseases, and those with limited mental intellegence are not allowed to vote. It is neccessary under such conditions for Regents to hold power on behalf of the people until the people can be cured of these problems. The only rules that bind the Regents in the tasks of transforming society are the rules of effeciency and effectivness. Oops maybe that is one rule not two?
    Anyways that contridicts what I said earlier about the military of any country be the actual Sovereign (King or Queen) because the military is supposed to be the well regulated militia which would normally have a preponderance of oppressive power in any society. (But not a monopoly) So the new improved formulatiabon is that while the people are the only legitimate Sovereign the military serves as a Regent to be able to set an irresponsible Sovereign in the corner for a time out when its behavior becomes grossly neglegent. Now of course if the Regent is just as spoiled and corrupt as the sovereign any group of people who are willing to try to replace them can try. Sadly with the technological systems of spying possessed by a modern state that would be much harder than in say in 1958, 1917, 1848, 1789 or 1776.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — March 28, 2017 @ 9:52 am

  8. Of course the various scams in motion from the Republicrats will cause more, not less, economic dislocation and suffering. Reza’s pessimism doesn’t strike me as being too far off the mark.

    What a smug, nasty little man Blankfein is. One wonders whether his kind even care whether their bromides are swallowed or not. I think not. What are you going to do about it? they’re asking.

    What indeed?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — March 28, 2017 @ 6:54 pm

  9. I, for one, was not amused. I found nothing new except your mention of your own short term at Goldman Sachs. There are millions who find the increasing rate of growth of Goldman Sachs as an arbiter of executive/financial policy creation and implementation over its almost 150 years of existence as more than mere arousal, but a scream of disapprobation on the leading edge of revolt of Sachs and the continuance of Friedman’s annoying ‘free markets’ and the growth of neoliberal laissez-faire policies gone global. Send the letter. I’d love to have a reply (should you receive one) put up on this site. Thanks for your work.

    Comment by kuhio kane — March 29, 2017 @ 4:32 am

  10. To Curt Kastens:
    Sounds like Plato’s idea of a Philosopher-King. Unfortunately, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Marcus Aurelius was one of the better Caesars, but even with him slavery existed, the Games continued, and wars against the Germans and others were carried on. I’m sure Stalin thought of himself as a philosopher-king, but too many failed to benefit from his reign, and his excesses were only checked by a fatal brain hemorrhage (unless he was poisoned by Beria’s people). “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (Winston Churchill, 1947). Democracy in Europe and Japan was much improved after 1945, with much more socialist elements, than it had been from, say, 1868 (modernization of Japan) and 1870 (Franco-Prussian War, and subsequent suppression of the Paris Commune) till 1945. People are all basically the same; after Americans experience a comparable extended catastrophe relatively comparable to the period 1914-1945 in Europe, Japan and China, then they (i.e., the survivors) will probably behave differently (more kindly) regarding their American democracy. I would wish for an “easy out,” or a “lucky break” resulting in national nirvana instead of such historical bitter medicine, but don’t see such a sweet fairy tale resolution happening anytime soon (if ever). The good thing about Trump, as opposed to Hillary, is that being such a bombastic oaf makes his behavior and his policies (along with the GOP’s) widely and instantly repulsive to much (most?) of the country, and so quickly generates opposition. Hillary’s “private” agenda (as regards national policy) was essentially the same as Trump’s, but she would have dulled public awareness in the same way leeches inject anesthetizing saliva in the wounds they suck blood from; so opposition would have been muted and slow. People, groups, projects and movements that help raise the intellectual level of the public, and strengthen (or give them) moral character are the best hope for the future, admittedly a long term prospect.

    Comment by Manuel García, Jr. — March 29, 2017 @ 4:57 am

  11. Dear Manuel,
    Churchills quote about democracy is widely accepted and foolish. It might have been true in a society in which 90% of the people lived on farms. The evidence that democratic societies opperate more effectively than other kinds of societies is taken for granted since the people of the countries of North America and Western Europe live better than those else where. The thing is these countries live at the expense of else where. Stan Goff (as well as many others) has documented that very well. I will agree that freedoms such as freedom from torture or freedom from censorship or freedom of assembly are very valuable. Yet these are Republican virtues not Democratic virtues.
    There are legitimate ways to check the power of Rulers in a non democratic society. First of all, and very simply, Rule not by a Philosopher-King but by a Central Committee of Philosopher Kings. Second as was done in the Roman Republic, when the times required a dictator, it was for a limited time only. The membership on this central committee should be limited to around 6 years. Third is recognizing the importance of Jury Nullification. At this point in time I do not trust the 99% to have a clue about what is good for them. However if they were on a Jury where they could hear complete debates given by competing experts I trust that they could make the correct decision more than 51% of the time.
    In the end it does not matter how good the rules of a society are if the people who are responsible for adhearing to the rules do not do so. The people who are responsible includes everyone. Yet it does not include everyone equally. Some people have much more responsiblity than others. If these people do not recognize who they are and act accordingly the ship of state will surely sink. In the case of the USA (and China) there is the potential to bring the rest of the planet down with it.

    Comment by Curt Kastens — March 29, 2017 @ 7:26 am

  12. Anyone tempted to idealize the Roman Republic should acquaint herself with the painful history of its transformation into the Roman Empire. In any case, would you really like to live under the philosophical sway of M.T. Cicero or the constitution bequeathed to Rome during the last quarter-century or so of the Republic by the bloodthirsty dictator Sulla?

    Besides, Rome’s last dictator, Caesar, made himself dictator for life, and after Caesar was killed, his great-nephew made sure that stuck for centuries. All this was arguably in the cards from the moment their Sabine kings decided to wage war on the other city-states of Italy.

    Anyway, Rome was Rome and we are we and in the final analysis, nothing could be more foreign to the present time than that, even if a few slavedriving apostles of the Enlightenment did amuse themselves by giving the United States something, unrecognizable to a Roman, that they chose to call a Senate?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 4, 2017 @ 10:59 am

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