Small Businesses Figure Heavily in Goldman Sachs’ PR, But Not its Portfolio

By Stacy Mitchell and David Morris

For years Goldman Sachs gave only a tiny fraction of its profits, less than 1 percent, to charity.  Then the depression hit and the huge bank was in the public’s crosshairs for its role in that collapse and the billions it continued to give out in bonuses.

Even as millions of people were losing their homes and tens of millions were losing their jobs, Goldman’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein continued to bluster, famously declaring his bank was “doing God’s work.” He defiantly declared that Goldman Sachs would not mend its ways. “I’d like [Goldman’s employees] to continue to do what they are doing. I don’t want to put a cap on their ambition. It’s hard for me to argue for a cap on their compensation.”

But Goldman did mend one of its ways.  It increased its charitable giving more than six-fold over pre-recession levels, but the purpose was less to better the world than to better Goldman Sachs’ image and therefore its bottom line.

The New York Times reports, “… in late 2009, the company faced mounting criticism about the billions of dollars it was paying out in bonuses in the wake of the financial crisis.  The firm needed some good public relations.  And fast.  Goldman committed $500 million over five years to another program, 10,000 Small Businesses, which helps businesses in the United States and Britain…The small business project, the firm hoped, would put it in the good graces of Main Street, and give people a better understanding of the firm.”

Goldman is spending handsomely to promote its small business friendly image. But when it comes to actually helping small business, Goldman is far more miserly.   We took a look at Goldman’s recent small businesses lending and compared it to that of community banks.  Goldman’s $113 billion commercial bank unit has a pathetic $10 million in small business loans on its books, or about 1/100th of 1 percent of its assets.  Community banks (those with assets under $1 billion) currently have about $189 billion, or 12 percent of their assets, in small business loans, more than 1,000 times what Goldman Sachs provides.

Goldman is not above using small businesses but it still won’t actually serve them.

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David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.