Michael Lewis Sends A Memo To Lloyd Blankfein, Pure Unadulterated Comic Genius Ensues
Michael Lewis' latest memo to Lloyd Blankfein is a must read. From Bloomberg (and we like the original title much better: Memo To Lloyd, the Morts Need Your Attention)
To: Lloyd Blankfein
Re: Winning the Public Relations War
Six months ago, with what I mistakenly took to be your
tacit approval, I attempted to address ordinary Americans,
almost as equals.
They envied and resented our firm; I sought merely to
correct their misunderstandings about Goldman Sachs and send
them on their way, so that they might more briskly resume their
quest for gainful employment.
In hindsight, I misjudged their ability to see the reality
of their situation, and of ours. At the time I accepted your
strong suggestion that I never again try to speak directly to
mortals -- or, as you referred to them, “The Morts.”
Now our predicament is suddenly more dire. Ordinary
Americans wish to control not just our pay but our core values:
We at Goldman have long stood for the right of every prop group
to trade against its firm’s customers. If we abdicate that
right, who are we, deep down?
In just the past few days many of us on the Goldman trading
floor have wrestled with that question. We believe that rather
than re-think our core values we should re-think our relations
with the American public.
Hence this memo. Your recent non-verbal signals -- your
habit of passing directly behind my trading desk en route to the
elevators, your selection of the urinal adjacent to my own --
convince me that you continue to value my thoughts.
As it happens, I have recently conducted a thorough study
of the culture of ordinary Americans. Please take the following
ideas in the spirit in which they are intended: a team spirit.
There is no “I” in Goldman Sachs, or in me. Nor will there
Idea No. 1: Give the Morts a small, perhaps even illusory,
stake in our upside.
We have all seen the effects on the hearts and minds of our
government officials and business leaders when they sense that
our prosperity might one day be theirs. In the past year Warren
Buffett has gone from being a leading critic of Wall Street to
the greatest defender of Wall Street bailouts. Him we needed to
pay hard cash -- most accept less.
That’s perhaps the most curious trait of these ordinary
Americans: you don’t need to give them any money to lead them to
hope that you might. Take Larry Summers, for instance. We both
know that we would never actually employ even this surprisingly
intelligent Mort in anything but the most humiliatingly
ceremonial role. But he doesn’t know that -- and thus he has
done so much for us.
Obviously we can never employ large numbers of ordinary
Americans. But if you stop for a moment and think like a Mort
you will realize that we don’t need to. We need only harness two
more of his many irrational traits: overconfidence, plus a
willingness to ignore the odds -- as evidenced by everything
from his interest in the Lotto, to his belief in what he calls
Each year, for example, Goldman Sachs might announce a
grand national competition, much like “American Idol.”
Finalists will appear before a national television audience to
be judged by a panel of three rather ordinary looking Goldman
executives. On stage they will perform various Wall Street
tricks: negotiating with Tim Geithner, lobbying the Senate
Banking Committee, designing securities that blow up, selling
bonds to Germans, etc.
The winner receives a job at Goldman Sachs. Which brings me
Big Idea No. 2: Give Morts the illusion that they have been
admitted into our realm, and can now truly see who we are and
what we do.
The winner of our national competition, for instance, might
easily be attached to a small Web-enabled, head-top photographic
device. Thus equipped he would become the eyes and ears of Morts
everywhere. As he stumbles around our offices, attempting to
understand that which is beyond his comprehension, he will no
doubt create what ordinary Americans refer to as “comedy.”
Morts love to laugh, to the point where they interpret our most
straightforward remarks as occasions for humor. As we do not
respond to comedy it will not disrupt the flow of our business,
and we can encourage it.
Let me say here that I, like every other Goldman trader,
have admired the lengths to which you have gone to resemble an
ordinary, non-threatening American. Your conscious decision to
forgo muscle definition, along with your persistent
hairlessness, has been nothing less than enlightened public
Only So Much
But there is only so much one human being can do, even
when that being is more than human. Our employees along this new
interface with Mort culture should reinforce your subliminal
message. They should be “normal looking” and trained to mimic
the Mort’s strange, emotional responses to external stimuli.
But the main purpose of any new personal contact with
individual Morts is to address what is perhaps our biggest
problem: the new belief of ordinary Americans that they now,
finally, understand what we do. That our work should be as
simple as “facilitating productive enterprise,” or
“allocating capital.” They have lost their former awe; we must
Notice that they do not begrudge professional basketball
players their vast salaries: they can see that those players are
so unlike themselves as to constitute a different species. As
our differences lie below the surface, they are harder for the
Morts to perceive. Closer proximity to us, and our complexity,
will solve this problem. They will soon weary of trying to
comprehend what we do, and go looking for another outlet for
their personal frustrations. Which brings me to my final
Big Thought No. 3: Remind the Morts of their more natural
At the moment they mistrust us, perhaps even despise us,
but their feelings toward us are new and thus shallow. They have
had 30 years of training in hating their own government (the
ultimate example of Mort irrationality). We must remind Morts
that we share a common enemy: them.
(Michael Lewis, a columnist for Bloomberg News, is the
author of “Liar’s Poker,” “Moneyball” and “The Blind
Side.” His next book, “The Big Short,” will be published in
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