Is the success of Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City a sign of increasing wickedness?

This story in the Daily Telegraph (London) recounts the growing success of Goldman Sachs, the investment banking firm, in Salt Lake City.

(Goldman) initially focused on support staff, but in recent years it has added asset managers, research analysts and investment bankers. Goldman now has nearly 2,000 employees in Salt Lake — almost 5pc of its global workforce — making the city its second-largest operation in America, and its fourth largest worldwide.

Far from balking at the investment banking giant on their doorstep, Salt Lake City residents are grateful for the jobs Goldman has brought, and are perplexed by the hostility the bank faces in other parts of America. The unemployment rate in Utah is 4.9pc, compared with a 7.6pc national average.

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, Goldman Sachs is a classic crony capitalist company. Goldman makes the vast majority of its money because of its cozy relationship with the government. Without Fed money-printing and influence-peddling in Washington, Goldman would either not exist or it would be a tiny company with very little influence. Goldman regularly sends bankers to Washington, where they promote big government, and then they return to Wall Street to make more millions. Goldman is, in my opinion, the classic case of a secret combination on a national scale.

For some of the history, I suggest reading here and here.

On the other hand, I am certain that the vast majority of people at Goldman are good people. They simply want a job. Before we go condemning them, we should consider: is working for the gambling industry in Las Vegas any better? How about working for a tobacco company or at Starbucks? Isn’t it a good thing when companies come to Utah seeking Mormon employees? Aren’t people who condemn others for their choices in employment self-righteous?

Before you answer consider this prophecy from Heber Kimball:

After a while the Gentiles will gather by the thousands to this place, and Salt Lake City will be classed among the wicked cities of the world. A spirit of speculation and extravagance will take possession of the Saints, and the results will be financial bondage.

Persecution comes next and all true Latter-day Saints will be tested to the limit. Many will apostatize and others will be still not knowing what to do. Darkness will cover the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. The judgments of God will be poured out on the wicked to the extent that our Elders from far and near will be called home, or in other words the gospel will be taken from the Gentiles and later on carried to the Jews.

The western boundary of the State of Missouri will be swept so clean of its inhabitants that as President Young tells us, when you return to that place, there will not be left so much as a yellow dog to wag his tail.

Before that day comes, however, the Saints will be put to a test that will try the integrity of the best of them. The pressure will become so great that the more righteous among them will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes.

—Heber C. Kimball, First Counselor in the First Presidency, May 1868, in Deseret News, 23 May 1931; see also Conference Report, Oct. 1930, p. 58-59

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

24 thoughts on “Is the success of Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City a sign of increasing wickedness?

  1. Provocative post. I can hardly wait to see the comments going forward. I do appreciate, Geoff, the nuance that you bring to the issue by mentioning the fact that the vast majority of the folks working at GS are just trying to make a decent living. That’s a notion that gets lost in the noise when we debate the ethics of business and capitalism.

    As for Heber C. Kimball, I think his prophecy is pretty valid. He was a very interesting man and was one heartbeat away from the Presidency of the Church for 24 years.

  2. Michael, like a lot of things in life, some charity is probably necessary on this issue. I know some Mormon politicians, for example, who get a LOT of their money from the gambling industry (Democrat and Republican politicians). This doesn’t make them all bad or all good.

  3. I have five friends who recently graduated from BYU with B.A.s in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic (what I got at well) who are now working at Goldman in SLC. One of the great things about Goldman is that they hire humanities majors, which makes it a really appealing career choice for a lot of people like me. On the other hand, I hear it’s a vicious work environment.

  4. This is an interesting post Geoff. I think it all comes down to the individual and how they feel about the company they work for and what that company does. I know, with my husband’s line of work, we have been asked by family and friends, “How can you do that job? How can you work in that industry and still sleep at night?” I don’t think I’d ever second guess a person’s job. As for the Saint’s being in bondage to extravagance and speculation, I think that is happening and does happen already. Perhaps not as much as Elder Kimball taught, but it’s there in many ways. In the ward I grew up in, I felt that way. If you didn’t have the right car, or the right tag on your clothes you were looked down on.

  5. I don’t see a problem with Goldman Sachs, I agree that everyone is just trying to get by in this life and a good job certainly makes that a lot easier. With regards to Heber C Kimball’s prophecy, that is quite worrisome. I can easily see Salt Lake City becoming a wicked place, in a way it already is. Recently the Deseret News posted a news story of a national poll that rated the most religious cities in the country. The Orem/Provo area was number 1, Ogden/Clearfield area was in the top 10 too. The rest of the cities where in the Bible Belt. Salt Lake City did not make the top 10.

  6. “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”

    Luke 16:9

  7. Also a couple of Pyramid-type companies in the Mormon Corridor–Nuskin in Provo and Melaleuca in Idaho Falls. I’ve had a couple of bishops–one of whom I have a great deal of respect for–who worked for these companies, along with several friends. I’d feel a little guilty accepting a job there, and especially at Melaleuca, but at the same time a job’s a job, and people need to support their families.

    I think having too much money can certainly be dangerous for the soul, and I think those of us without a ton of money too often idolize the rich, but I’ve also known some wealthy people I have a lot of respect for. There’s a difference between the wealthy doctor/businessman who’s a good family man and donates significant time and money to charity and the wealthy man who’s on his fourth marriage and uses his money for his own benefit (such as hiring attorneys to sue any newspaper that ever says anything bad about him). We’re in denial if we think both types don’t exist within the church.

  8. “Goldman is, in my opinion, the classic case of a secret combination on a national scale.”

    I think this is a mischaractherization. The relationship between governments and financial institutions is enormously complicated. It is not controlled by shadowy, conspiratorial individuals. Rather, it is a vast ecosystem ruled by peculiarities that have arisen unexpectedly because of the intersection of many uncontrolable, interrelated factors. The political guiding philosophies of those working within this jungle have little relation to the true realities of the living in the system. Nor can political entities hope to truly change the nature of the ecosystem in any significant way, unless you want to try something violent and undemocratic like the Communist Revolution.

    James Glattfelder addresses this subject in his TED talk, Who Controls the World? where he explains why conspiracies cannot govern complex systems, but that they are controlled by their own self-generating and uncontrollable rules. Those who work within the system cannot be blamed for any particularities of the system. No one can.

  9. Nate, national investment banks were responsible for the establishment of the Fed in secret meetings in the early part of the 20th century. The entire process was a classic secret combination. Today, the banks continue to get first access to money through Fed money-printing. When they make mistakes by gambling billions of dollars in high-risk bets on derivatives, they get bailed out by the government. If they win the bet, they win, and if they lose the bet, they get bailed out and win. Who pays for this? The taxpayers and the American public through higher inflation. This is also a secret combination.

  10. The success of GS anywhere is a sign of increasing wickedness… :-)

    When the rapture hits, Satan will be doing his IPO through them!

  11. I don’t see how you can call it a secret combination if the secret is out. Anyone who wants to learn the economics of how it works has ready access to the information. If the Fed prints money and then bails out banks, I fail to see how that is secret. Every one of those events is highly publicized and subject to intense political debate. Elect someone like Ron Paul for President, and maybe you won’t get a bail out.

    If we can’t find the political will to overthrow institutions like the Fed, then maybe the problem is us, not the institution. Democratic government is a reflection of ourselves. More apt would be the Book of Mormon phrase: “woe unto this people when the majority choose evil.”

    Let’s try pointing the finger of blame where it belongs: Woe unto America, for the majority of people have chosen to support the Fed, and live a lifestyle of personal and governmental indebtedness and dishonesty. We are a selfish, dishonest, hedonistic society, and there is nothing secret about it.

  12. This argument is as old as the republic. Back then it was Hamilton and the Bank of the U.S., now it’s Goldman Sachs and other investment bankers. Somehow we survived Hamilton (and we mostly survived Jackson’s fight against the Bank) and I suspect that we’ll survive Goldman Sachs too.

  13. What exactly is a “classic” secret combination? Their historical context is still largely unknown. I am trying to nail down the term better by studying the use of the term robber in classical and early medieval texts. But outside of some comments about secrecy, wickedness, and lusting for power and money, the description in the BoM is vague enough that I’ve seen secret combinations and Gadianton Robbers compared to everything from the KKK, to the Taliban, to Wallstreet bankers, to lefist insurgents, to the Mafia, and to the Fed.

  14. Morgan D, that’s a decent question. Personally, I think the term is deliberately left vague in the scriptures. So it can apply to everything from Cain to the Gadianton robbers to modern-day Mafia, etc. In my opinion, it is an agreement formed without public knowledge to overcome legal means to get power and financial gain. The secrecy is important because if the general public knew about the combination they would oppose it and not allow it to prosper. In good government we talk about sunshine laws, which means that all public officials are supposed to be open about their activities because they are public servants. If they go around plotting in secret, their actions are usually not about the public good but instead about enriching themselves.

    When it comes to the Fed, it was a secret plot to enrich a small group of bankers by claiming that a central bank was necessary for “stability.” Who is in charge of public money and who gets first access to this public money? The bankers. During the 2008 financial crisis, the bankers met in secret to plot the bailout *which was all about protecting the existing system, which enriches the bankers first.* The Fed also secretly bailed out foreign banks with trillions of dollars of US funds.

    More here:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/billfrezza/2013/05/07/how-the-federal-reserve-became-historys-biggest-bad-bank/

    And here:

    http://www.amazon.com/Creature-Jekyll-Island-Federal-Reserve/dp/091298645X

  15. ” In my opinion, it is an agreement formed without public knowledge to overcome legal means to get power and financial gain.”

    I would add to that: secret combinations are also agreements formed without public knowledge to change legal systems for the purposes of power and financial gain.

    In other words, it’s not just “under the table dealings.” It’s non-public coordination to make what was once illegal perfectly legal — again, to escape legal consequences for amassing power and wealth in otherwise (or previously) illegitimate ways.

  16. Yes the national and global economies are complex sums of many, many individual decisions but when you get to the bottom of the inside story of why any given company or individual is able to amass great wealth it comes down to a lack of competition facilitated in some meaningful way by who they know. Generally it is the uneven paying field rather than creativity in the free market that account for their wealth.

  17. ” In my opinion, it is an agreement formed without public knowledge to overcome legal means to get power and financial gain.”

    I think there are a few problems with this definition. When instituting monetary policy, or any other policy for that matter, politicians in a democracy routinely hash out policy details in secret. Why? Because policy making is extraordinarily complicated, far beyond the capacity of the average citizen, let alone the average politician to understand. If they publicized every detail of policy negotiations, they would never get anything done, because millions of arm-chair quarterbacks accross America would “throw the bums out” the next election season, simply because they didn’t understand the complexities of policy making.

    But just because policy has been drafted in secret doesn’t mean it has been done undemocratically or illegally. Politicians are accountable to the people. In order to get elected, politicians simplify the policy making process into sound-bites and simplistic ideologies that your average person can understand. Competing politicians make their cases to the people, and the people vote. They voted for Woodrow Wilson, and he gave them the Fed. The people are obviously happy enough with whatever strange things the Fed is doing, because no politician has convincingly appealed to the American people to abolish the Fed. The Fed would easily be abolished if the American people opposed it. But they don’t. The Fed reflects decisions the American people have made about how they want the economy to operate. There is no secret conspiracy ruling things behind the scenes without political oversight. The people could overthrow the Fed if they really wanted to. If you libertarians can make your supposedly common-sense argument to abolish the Fed, then you should be able to get the majority of Americans to go along with it. But you can’t. We like the Fed. We don’t care that it is not audited. We don’t care that it prints money and threatens our long-term financial stability. We prefer low inflation, banks that won’t fail, and easy debt. We’ll take the risks thank you very much. We’ll just cruise off the cliff of a great depression or other kind of apocalyptic collapse. That is OUR choice. That is democracy in action, not a secret combination.

  18. Geoff, I read the article, and it may be perfectly true that the Fed is an evil, unnaccountable, plutocratic catastrophe waiting to happen.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that a majority of Americans DO NOT want to abolish the Fed. That is a fringe political movement in America. Unless that fringe movement can articulate their case in a way that will convince the majority of the American people to elect a majority of libertarians to the legislative and executive branches, the Fed is here to stay, because we the people want it, as evil, destructive, secret, and dangerous as it may be.

    You can call it evil and secret if you want, but you can’t call it undemocratic, for it is completely democratic. It was created and is upheld by duly elected politicians. It has never been overruled by the judiciary as unconstitutional, and no elected politicians have ever convinced the American people as a whole that it is a serious problem.

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