Is it any coincidence that on the same day that the Obama Administration announces restrictions on executive pay for companies taking government bailout money, Goldman Sachs announced that it is pulling out of the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program?
The investment bank, says CFO David Viniar, is chafing under the restrictions that came attached to its $10 billion loan. The new pay rules, which could be applied to existing TARP participants in a later iteration, may have been the last straw. “We would like to get out from under that,” said Viniar. Goldman intends to pay back the loan by the end of the year.
Goldman’s move may presage a stampede out of the government program for financial institutions that can afford to do so. The new pay caps may also drive away institutions that have not yet taken government funds, as well as those that are weighing taking more money.
Though unintended by the Administration, this is not a bad thing. As the Journal snarked this morning, “We assume this means that from here to eternity Goldman will not be too big to fail.” No doubt at least a few other banks will decide that they, too, are in good enough shape to go it alone. That decision could give them an enormous comparative advantage in the battle for top talent, as other firms become subject to the caps.
More broadly, this episode should remind businesses to be wary of getting in bed with the government because, inevitably, politics will intrude. In other words, there will always be strings attached—many tangled strings that stifle productivity and growth. That lesson, overlooked in recent months, is an important one, and it comes at an especially auspicious time, as plans for an even bigger banking bailout are taking shape.