Standing By the Bankers, Right or Wrong

Michael R. Bloomberg, who has waged municipal war on guns, sugary soft drinks, tobacco and cars that enter Manhattan in excessive numbers, visited the headquarters of Goldman Sachs a few days ago to let its chief executive and its employees feel the mayoral love.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Goldman Sachs had taken it squarely on the chin from one of its London-based directors, Greg Smith, who resigned with an incendiary valedictory on the opinion page of The New York Times. It described the investment bank as a plunderer interested only in its own profits and caring not a fig about the clients, referred to by senior bankers as “muppets.” The swagger, Mr. Smith said, was all about ripping clients off and eyeballs out.

So the mayor went to Goldman Sachs to offer his sympathy, a reflexive action for someone who owes his fortune to Wall Street but also a display of solidarity with an industry that, like it or not, keeps New York afloat. Something like 40 percent of the city’s income-tax and business-tax revenue comes from the financial world.

“It’s my job to stand up and support companies that are here in this city that bring us a tax base and that employ our people,” Mr. Bloomberg said on Friday.

One can only assume, then, that if circumstances were altered, he would express his love of guns, of sugary soft drinks, of tobacco and, yes, of all those cars that enter Manhattan. It’s a logical extension of what he said.

If he were a mayor in Iowa, he would presumably stand up for corn growers and oppose attempts like New York’s to discourage people from buying beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. If he were in tobacco-growing North Carolina, he would have to denounce New York’s antismoking campaign. If he governed in Virginia, a leading weapons-trafficking state, he would object to New York’s demonizing of guns. In Michigan, of course, he would be a champion of cars and more cars everywhere, including in the overcrowded heart of Manhattan.

In each instance, Mr. Bloomberg could use the same words: “It’s my job to stand up and support companies that are here in this city that bring us a tax base and that employ our people.”

My tax base, right or wrong, has been the mayor’s policy throughout these years of financial distress, never mind that Wall Street’s excesses deserve a fair measure of blame. He has bridled at efforts to put the money men on a tighter leash, and insisted that Congress, not the banks, created disasters like the mortgage crisis.

Not that he is alone in this regard. Two years ago, then-Gov. David A. Paterson similarly took up a leave-the-bankers-alone chant. “What we have to understand,” Mr. Paterson said, “is that Wall Street is to our state what grapes are to California, what automobiles are to Michigan and what oil is to Texas.”

What does that mean? If wine is found to be tainted, if cars have defective brakes, if an oil company fouls the Gulf of Mexico, we should applaud politicians in California, Michigan and Texas who keep lips zipped?

For his part, Mr. Bloomberg embraced an editorial that appeared on Bloomberg View, the opinion arm of Bloomberg L.P. He had nothing to do with the editorial, the mayor said on his weekly radio show on Friday, but “the guy who wrote it had it exactly right.”

In a snarky tone, the editorial took Mr. Smith to task for acting as if his investment bank were “something like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

“Yes, Mr. Smith,” the headline said, “Goldman Sachs Is All About Making Money.”

But it misrepresented the essence of Mr. Smith’s Op-Ed article. His broadside was not against making money but, rather, what he described as an all-encompassing climate of overweening greed. The distinction is important.

By the way, that business about “muppets”? It’s supposed to mean that clients are numbskulls. But we confess to being fond of Muppets, especially Kermit the Frog. Shouldn’t people who are interested in money for its own sake feel the same? Surely, they appreciate that it’s not easy being, or making, green.

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