Despite Gillian Tett's concerns that her talk on "The Current State of the Economy" was planned so far in advance that it wouldn't be relevant, the Senate's grilling of Goldman Sachs executives on Tuesday provided plenty of fodder for Tett and co-presenter Matthew Taibbi.
Tett, the U.S. managing editor of Financial Times, compared Goldman to an "amoeba sucking up information," rather than the "vampire squid" that Taibbi, a Rolling Stone contributing editor, has dubbed it. The two editors were paired in the Stafford Little Lecture, part of Princeton's public lecture series, which drew about 200 people to McCosh 10 April 28.
Accusing Goldman of producing financial products "so murky, so complex that they weren't traded at all," Tett postulated that the firm "sucked up all the information" so "others couldn't see what was going on."
Taibbi took aim at all Wall Street firms for the current financial mess, saying that Wall Street has "fallen in love with stealing money rather than making money."
Federal regulators, politicians, and the media did not escape criticism from the pair. Taibbi accused the media of covering politics like a sports story in which there are always two teams. "We need to look beyond right versus left ... blue versus red," he said, because issues "should be complicated."
"It's amazing to me," Tett said, "that American politicians who support free markets aren't shouting from the rooftops about this [financial situation]."
"That's because they're making money on it," retorted Taibbi, drawing laughter from the audience.
There should be more separation between the utility side of banking and the speculative side going forward, Tett believes. She also sees the future as a "painful period of adjustment" while debt is cut.
Both editors are pessimistic about meaningful reform of the financial system. Taibbi deemed regulators as "always five years behind," while Tett said the government has simply patched over cracks in the system.
"These paper instruments have staved off disaster in the United States," Taibbi said. "The underlying reality is that the U.S. industrial economy has collapsed."By Fran Hulette