Trump has tapped Goldman Sachs President and Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn to head the National Economic Council, which advises the president on economic policy.
Cohn, a 25-year Goldman veteran, will join Trump’s pick for U.S Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who worked for Goldman Sachs for 17 years, before leaving in 2002 to become a Wall Street financier and movie producer.
Combined, they will have more influence over the economy than any other administration officials.
Cohn and Mnuchin come from a corporate culture where clients were derisively referred to as “muppets” or “elephants,” depending on the size of their portfolios. They measured their importance by the amount of money they could make off them.
It’s hard to see what kind of regard they’ll hold for mostly blue-collar non-college Trump supporters. They have probably never heard of the Wall Street investment bank. But it’s had tremendous influence over their lives, nonetheless.
And, not in a good way.
Goldman Sachs was at the center of the economic meltdown in 2008 that led to the collapse of financial markets and the Great Recession. Millions of average people lost their jobs, their homes and likely a good portion of their retirement savings.
Goldman, however, profited voraciously off the crisis–coming and going.
It sold sketchy mortgage-backed securities, known as Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) to its unwitting customers, even though it knew many of the securities were destined to go belly up. Then, it bet against those investments to profit when they went bust.
The smoking gun revealing the double dealing was an email written three years before the crisis. Two of Goldman’s most senior traders warned then President Lloyd Blankfein that the CDOs were “one shitty deal” for the investment bank’s customers.
In the second half of 2006, Goldman unloaded the sketchy CDOs on its customers, and took its own advice. Goldman made a huge bet that the mortgage market would collapse, according to published reports.
When the financial markets began to unravel a year later, Goldman posted a record $17.6 billion pretax profit, including $4 billion from its bet against its customers.
It was the only investment bank to emerge mostly unscathed from the crisis and posted another record profit, $20 billion pretax, the year after the crisis in 2009.
But at what cost?
Based on the most widely cited estimates, the economy lost $12.8 trillion to $28 trillion in lost production. The lower number works out to about $120,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States, according to The New York Times.
While Goldman was enjoying record profits, roughly 8.7 million jobs were lost between 2008 and 2010; unemployment rose to a peak of 10 percent in October 2009 from 4.7 percent in November 2007, just before the crisis began to unfold.
More than 7 million Americans lost their homes to foreclosure in the Great Recession and personal bankruptcies soared. In 2009, alone, more than 1.4 million households sought protection in bankruptcy.
The Great Recession left wide swaths of economic devastation in the poorest regions of the country.
Ironically, they are the same regions that supported Trump’s presidential bid. Trump’s payback has been to appoint people from the same corporate culture that “rigged” the economy and ruined their lives.
Cohn was a major player at Goldman throughout the run-up to the financial crisis and during the crash.
In the mid-1990s, Mnuchin helped develop its mortgage backed securities business. Later, the unit would become a catalyst for the collapse. Before he left, he served as vice chairman of the division.
During the crisis, he became a vulture investor.
He bought distressed assets at pennies on the dollar and turned them around. One of the deals he engineered with Wall Street pals was the take over of IndyMac, a high-flying mortgage bank that crashed in the financial crisis.
Mnuchin renamed the bank OneWest and made a killing on government reimbursements for bad mortgage loans. The bank foreclosed on its customers with a vengeance, repossessing more than 36,000 homes and reaping $1.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies.
Last year, CIT Bank bought OneWest in a $3.4 billion deal over the objection of fair-housing advocates, civil rights groups and homeowners. Mnuchin, then OneWest Chairman, reaped a $10.9 million payout and joined CIT’s board.
“Investors in the bank, including Mr. Mnuchin, profited handsomely at the expense of thousands of working people across our state,” Kevin Stein, deputy director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, said at the time.
During the campaign, while Trump was railing against Wall Street and the “rigged economy,” Mnuchin was quietly serving as Trump’s campaign finance chairman.
Yet, Trump had Goldman Sachs in mind when he pitched a fit on the campaign trail about Wall Street’s hold on the government.
In fact, one of Trump’s closing campaign ads, warning about the influence of the “global power structure,” featured an image of Goldman Sachs Chief Executive Blankfein. The ad was widely criticized for its anti-Semitic overtones.
Whether Trump will go to bat for the little people once he takes office remains to be seen. Mnuchin is already talking about dismantling Dodd-Frank, the law put in place after the financial crisis to reign in Wall Street excesses and protect consumers.
If there is anything redeeming about Cohn and Mnuchin, proponents say they know where the bodies are buried. If anyone can “fix” the system, they can. The question is who will they be fixing for?