Goldman boss says he does "God's work"

Who does he think he's kidding?

It was only on Friday that I posted on the proposition that "Jesus was a lefty" and included these words: "Feeble attempts to suggest that the Parable of the Talents shows that Christ would want everyone to work at Goldman Sachs fail to convince, and in any case clearly miss the larger point."

But lo, it came to pass that only two days later Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman's chairman and chief executive, gave an interview to the Sunday Times in which he said this: "We're very important. We help companies to grow by helping them raise capital. Companies that grow create wealth. This, in turn, allows people to have jobs that create more growth and more wealth. It's a virtuous circle. We have a social purpose." He was, he said, "doing God's work".

And Blankfein is not alone. Brian Griffiths, Goldman's international adviser, argued: "The injunction of Jesus to love others as ourselves is an endorsement of self-interest." That, in October, was within the walls of St Paul's Cathedral. Last week the CEO of Barclays, John Varley, announced in St Martin-in-the-Fields that "profit is not Satanic".

Varley may have had a point, but I don't think Griffiths did. His is a frankly vile distortion of a message that ultimately is one of selflessness, not self-interest. I don't think "selflessness" is a word that comes to mind when one contemplates Goldman Sachs, or any of those great temples of commerce whose false gods were exposed by the crash. We are all too aware of how much "self-interest" matters to them, with their offensive pleas about how they can't be expected to manage without Lottery figure-sized bonuses. Surely we don't want to return to worshipping those idols again so soon?

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.