This article in The Big Money discusses how Goldman Sachs’ defense in the Abacus CDO case – that the buyers were sophisticated investors – isn’t entirely accurate, since those sophisticated investors (banks and pension funds) get a significant amount of money from regular folks like you and me. This is true, but it only gets at half the story. In the context of Wall Street, banks and pension funds are not considered the most sophisticated players.
The reality is that Wall Street has a hierarchy, and it’s measured by compensation. Generally speaking, the smartest people go to where they can make the most money. So if you are really sharp, you’re not likely to end up managing a pension fund’s investments and being a civil servant making $200k per year. You might settle for being a bond portfolio manger at a bank, making $500k. But if you are really smart and aggressive – in other words, a sophisticated player – you are going to end up at an investment bank putting together deals that can pay you several million dollars per year.
So Goldman’s “these were big boys” defense has two flaws. One, as The Big Money points out, the big boys got their money from the little guys. But two, the buyers may have been big boys, but the Goldman bankers pushing the CDOs were men. Speaking metaphorically, of course.