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July 23, 2013

Why on Earth does Goldman Sachs own a coal mine in Colombia?

In 1913, Congress determined that a cabal of Wall Street bankers had captured control over the US economy. Having bought up large shares of railroads, utilities, and manufacturers, these titans of finance had acquired the power to pick whether a business thrived or failed, and could effectively direct the nation’s commerce. “[I]t is fraught with peril to the welfare of the country,” wrote the Pujo Committee, the investigating body.

In the century since, banks have mostly been prohibited from direct involvement in non-banking activities—transporting and storing goods, for example, or running commercial businesses. But today, a handful of banks are back in the game of real stuff and services. Goldman Sachs, for example, owns a coal mine in Colombia and a giant metals warehouse in Detroit. Morgan Stanley owns and operates electric power plants outside Reno and delivers cargoes of liquefied natural gas to Argentina.

This fall, the Federal Reserve will decide whether to allow these two banks to continue owning and operating these businesses. Experts say that if Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley get their way, the result could vastly expand the reach and influence of the entire banking industry—even as lawmakers hustle for ways to rein in these same giants.

The banks stand to gain the most rights in markets for essential commodities, like oil, gas, metals and electricity. Over the last decade, the Fed has allowed a handful of commercial banks to directly enter these industries, largely through circuitous back road legal processes. Its decision in this instance could open a highway for everyone.”


Critics say the banks’ active participation in commercial businesses gives them an unfair edge. “Why should depository institutions—with an explicit lower cost of funding guaranteed by taxpayers—be competing on a for-profit basis against non-subsidized competitors in a free market?” said Michael Masters, founder of the financial reform advocacy group Better Markets and a hedge fund manager based in Atlanta.


Read full Salon article here

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