Interview: Matt Taibbi

On Griftopia, Goldman Sachs, and his writing process
By PETER KADZIS  |  November 9, 2010


Matt Taibbi can make a snake bite funny. In three and a half previous books (he co-wrote one about his adventures as a journalist in sex- and drug-crazed Russia), he explored certifiably important topics — such as imperialism, presidential politics, and religion's invasion of civic culture. Until now, he has approached his subject matter with a bizarre insouciance that is in itself certifiable. But when Taibbi came to look upon the greatest economic crisis of our time, something changed.

Is it my imagination, or isGriftopia an angry book?
Sure, it's designed to be. I started writing this book while I was re-reading The Gulag Archipelago. Not that it is in any way comparable. But I was trying to describe this very large, very corrupt mechanism. I was trying to maintain this very, very angry tone throughout, something commensurate with the subject matter.

I'd like to hear you sum up what you set out to address.
The book is about corruption in the financial-services industries. It's about how these very large, super, mega banks have positioned themselves to game the system and steal from clients, ordinary people, the government. Mixed up in all of it is how financial innovations ultimately compounded their incestuous relationship with the government to the point where they really developed a license to steal and to defraud.

The chapter "The Great American Bubble Machine," about Goldman Sachs, made a big splash when it came out inRolling Stone. What's the story behind that story?
At Rolling Stone, we did a big piece about the AIG bailout that was called "The Big Takeover." We got such a response that we decided to do another one. In the researching of AIG, one of the things I noticed was that every single one of the Wall Street sources I interviewed was complaining about Goldman Sachs. Everybody in this community had an opinion about this bank, which was the biggest, baddest guy on the block. Goldman was deeply resented in many corners because people perceived them as winning unfairly, or cheating, or dominating the market. So we decided to do this piece on Goldman, to use the firm as a symbol of everything investment banks had been up to in the last 20 years. It turned out to be a really effective way of getting people interested in the topic, focusing on this James Bondian villain investment bank.

What's your favorite part of the book?
Well, to write, my favorite was the bit about Alan Greenspan: "The Biggest Asshole in the World." It was originally only supposed to be about 2000 words, and it just grew into 15,000 words of character assassination. By the end of it, I was growing fangs and hair on the back of my hands; I was having a werewolf transformation.

But there is more toGriftopia than driving a stake through the heart of the world's most overrated central banker, yes?
Sure. I'm most anxious for people to read about sovereign wealth funds, about how our government is selling off parts of our infrastructure, like Chicago parking meters, to foreign investors, people in the Middle East. People have no idea what's going on.

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