Goldman Sachs proves the lord works in mysterious ways

Did Goldman Sachs Group (GS) Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein invoke the lord's name in vain when he said Wall Street's most successful bank was doing "God's work?" Experts are divided.

"The question of whether the CEO of Goldman Sachs is doing God's work is at one level a very complex one," says Dr. Andrew Abela, chairman of the Department of Business & Economics at the Catholic University of America. Abela, who is working on a book, Catechism for Business, says, "The vast size of the bank and its extensive influence on markets and on government policy, means that it is operating at all times in a moral minefield."

Among the stickier issues facing Goldman is the payment of bonuses. Goldman, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) are set to pay nearly $30 billion worth in executive bonuses, according to Bloomberg News. Compensation expense for Goldman alone is expected to more than double from last year to $21.9 billion, or about $691,000 per employee.

Father Oliver Williams, director of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business, said in an interview with DailyFinance that "the whole bonus system is outrageous. Nobody in my field of ethics thinks they are okay" and that executives ought to help those less fortunate with their payouts. He stressed that there is nothing inherently immoral with Goldman Sachs, where his nephew works. "God created the world," he said. "He made the rest of us co-creators. ... Work is part of co-creation."

Maybe Blankfein feels blessed by the all mighty. The banker, who earned $67 million in 2007 and owns about $500 million in Goldman stock, is a real-life Horatio Alger story. The son of a postal worker and a receptionist, he was the first in his family to go to Harvard. Perhaps his memories of his blue-collar past are fading as New York-based Goldman posts $3.2 billion in quarterly profits.

Like every corporation, Goldman Sachs is neither all good nor all evil though the firm is being ridiculed by liberal bloggers and MSNBC. Humorist Andy Borowitz noted that Blankfein's claim was being attacked by Satan in a hastily called press conference.

"In 2009, 43 Goldman Sachs offices partnered with 828 nonprofit Community Partners worldwide," the company crows on its Web site. "Over 22,800 Goldman Sachs people joined with family and friends to contribute over 134,247 hours to the communities where we work and live."

Good? No doubt? But is it the "social purpose" that Blankfein spoke of in the interview with the Times of London? I don't think so. Theologically, it's a dubious proposition for the banker to invoke God into the discussion, as if he was looking for divine intervention for his favorite football team to score a touchdown.

"It seems to be that he was speaking very narrowly there," says Dr. Michael Palmer, dean of Regent University's School of Divinity in an interview with DailyFinance. "He does not talk about things like larger social purposes...He is not really appealing to any ultimate religious authority."

Regent University, by the way, was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson.


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