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)

Goldman Trader Shares Three Big Ideas With Lloyd

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 ever be.

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.

Ordinary Americans

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 “love.”

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 to...

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 relations.

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 restore it.

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 thought...

Big Thought No. 3: Remind the Morts of their more natural resentments.

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 March.)