Sunday, June 04, 2006

Trashy Business Journalism

This article on Goldman Sachs from the current issue of BusinessWeek exhibits the typically myopic view of business journalists who can't imagine other motivations than greed. The best description the author, Joseph Weber, can come up with for why an unusually high number of successful Goldman employees go on to government positions such as Treasury Secretary is "long-term greedy," a phrase uttered by a Goldmanite to describe the white-shoe firm's political alumni. The idea that human beings -- even those who also exhibit acquisitiveness -- have an inherent ambition to rule is apparently incomprehensible to Weber. He vaguely admits it when he writes that Goldmanites have found "power an irresistible coda to money," but he also describes the calling to public office "public service" too often to make me think he's willing to admit to himself what he sees.

None of this is to denigrate Goldman Sachs or the ambition to rule. However, probity demands that we account for it more than the typical business journalist does. There is something about democracy that is offended by the ambition to rule and makes us squeamish about admitting it when we see it for the obvious reason that it is behind inequality. Ambition offends or has the potential to offend the fundamental principle of the regime. Also, we think of all rule as being unjust, so we don't want to think that human beings have the ambition to rule in them naturally, or perhaps we don't want to think that we can give it a legitimate outlet by making someone Treasury Secretary. It has somehow become undemocratic or anti-democratic to admit that people have the ambition to rule, so we call it "long-term greedy" or "public service." I'm not ruling you; I'm your humble servant.

Goldman Sachs hires lots of talented, ambitious human beings. Some of them are so unusual, in fact, that after they feel like they've made enough money, they seek honor and pursue rule. Or perhaps, as exciting as it must be to work at 85 Broad, the financial world, even at the highest levels, can sometimes get boring. There's something about politics that even the thrills of high finance can't match. These people are not "long-term greedy;" rather, they exhibit something other than greed or acquisitiveness -- at least at certain points in their careers. If Hank Paulson wanted to be a humble public servant, why was there apparently so much negotiating about how much authority he'd have in the administration?

Well, I've probably gone off the deep end here, but I wish business journalists would achieve a broader view of human motivation.


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