In Its Quest to Be Hated Less, Goldman Makes a Concession to the White House Pay Czar

On the same day that a Bloomberg News poll found financial executives are still less popular than Congressmen, lawyers and insurance companies, Goldman Sachs announced that it won’t pay its top brass cash bonuses this year.

Naturally, the 30 executives will still receive rather large “retention payments,” but they’ll be in restricted stock–which just so happens to be the form of bonus preferred by the Kenneth Feinberg, the White House Pay Czar.

The numbers might look the same, but the lack of cash is quite a loss for Lloyd Blankfein & Company. Mr. Blankfein had been on a p.r. blitz of late, trying to erase the lingering stench of being compared to “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” in Rolling Stone–a description so often repeated that it became an inescapable identifier in news reports.

To counter that putrid notion, and the unbecoming idea that Goldman had helped itself by getting 100 cents on the dollar for its A.I.G. debt, Mr. Blankfein went barnstorming. He granted interviews, contemplated a billion dollar charitable donation, settled on a half-billion dollar program to help small businesses, and generally tried to convince America that bankers–and their bonuses–really aren’t so bad. It was an uphill battle, even without the obvious missteps: Mr. Blankfein said the bank was “doing God’s work,” and the company’s president, Gary Cohn, bragged that it would have survived just fine even without the bailout money.

None of it helped. Seventy five percent of Americans still don’t think companies that took TARP money should be paying bonuses, and Goldman was forced to take heed.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some converts. In Its Quest to Be Hated Less, Goldman Makes a Concession to the White House Pay Czar