In the movie “The Usual Suspects”, the character Verbal Kint, played by actor Kevin Spacey, sits in a police station and spins a yarn neatly explaining the mystery of a major drug deal gone bad. He pins the blame on an unknown criminal mastermind named Keyser Soze. It isn’t until Verbal is released after being questioned that the police realize, too late, that the crippled ex-convict’s explanation was a completely made up story. A late arriving fax from the only other surviving witness ads insult to injury when it identifies Verbal as “Keyser Soze”.
Last night, I pictured Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein as Verbal Kint instead of Kevin Spacey.
“Who is Keyser Soze? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that, poof. He’s gone.“
Verbal Kint — The Usual Suspects
I wondered, while imagining Blankfein in some future Congressional hearing, which details he might take from the Congressman’s name plates before him and which items he would simply make up as he attempted to convince his questioners that there was some sort of financial “Keyzer Soze” who really pulled the strings at Goldman Sachs.
“Historical revisionism related to the financial crisis is in high gear. Higher powers are blamed, Wall Street is ascribed supernatural influence and bankers have been credited with omnipotence. Indeed, high finance is now said to have lured Greece with a siren song of concealed debt, to Europe’s vexation.”
“But this mystification conceals reality. Those responsible for the Greek debt crisis can be found in Athens. The Greek government made promises to the country that it couldn’t afford. That is why they worked with the investment bank Goldman Sachs to conceal the true dimensions of public debt from the European Union budget watchdogs. The adage currently circulating in Brussels is true: There are lies, damned lies and Greek statistics. Yes, Goldman helped in the deception and even profited from it. But the bankers weren’t sirens. Competition mandated that they offer all of their financial products to those who were willing to pay for them — including governments who were only interested in cheating.”
Lies, Damned Lies and Greek Statistics Süddeutsche Zeitung
There is really nothing good about the cross-currency swap transaction Greece entered into with Goldman Sachs just before it joined the European Union. In both word and deed the derivative transactions Goldman Sachs effected on behalf of the Greek government had only one purpose — to factually alter the struggling nation’s financial statements in such a way that it appeared to be more financially stable than it was.
But the story worked for Greece back in 2001 for the same reason the police detective in the movie believed Verbal Kint when he made up his spine-tingling yarn about a group of ex-cons who wanted revenge on the cops for being “usual suspects” — because the cop in the movie wanted to believe the usual suspects were guilty as badly as the world markets wanted to believe that a faltering nation could engineer its way out of a financial hole with smoke and mirrors.