It's been a tumultuous few years for U.S. investors and the U.S. economy as a whole. We've had a nasty financial crisis, a housing meltdown, and the unemployment rate now sits just under 10%. On top of all of that, we're now dealing with one of, if not the, worst U.S. environmental disasters in recorded history.

If we're looking to put a face on our troubles, we don't have to look much further than BP (NYSE: BP) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS). But in a showdown of these corporate rascals, who deserves the lion's share of the ire?

The problem
Goldman Sachs
Obviously, one single company wasn't responsible for the entire financial crisis. In fact, others seemed to have a much more direct impact. AIG, for instance, brought the market to its knees with its derivatives shenanigans. Citigroup had more garbage than Waste Management and would have been bound for the dump if it weren't for the government. As for Fannie Mae (NYSE: FNM) and Freddie Mac, their debt-laden balance sheets mean that they're still a cancer in the financial system.

So why is Goldman in the hot seat? Because while the financial system was crumbling, Goldman was pocketing big profits. Whether it was greedily grabbing bailout money from AIG, structuring mortgage bonds destined to fail, or helping Greece dig its own grave, Goldman curiously always seemed to find itself in a position to rake in massive profits.

On April 20, Transocean's (NYSE: RIG) Deepwater Horizon rig, which was working on BP's Macondo Prospect, exploded, leaving 11 dead and 17 injured. The rig sank and the explosion left oil gushing out of a tube 5,000 feet below the surface. Thousands of barrels of oil have been blasting into the ocean on a daily basis, imperiling marine life, coastal areas, and the livelihoods of many in the affected area.

BP was hardly alone in the Macondo effort. Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE: APC) owns a 25% stake in the block where the explosion occurred, and Japan's Mitsui & Co. owns another 10%. Transocean was the rig operator, while Halliburton (NYSE: HAL) was a contractor, and Cameron International (NYSE: CAM) made the blowout preventer that, well, didn't prevent the blowout.

BP, however, is the ultimate owner of the well and therefore first on the hook for financial -- not to mention reputational -- liability.

The future
Goldman Sachs
Efforts are under way to turn a massive financial reform bill into law, but some of the toughest provisions may not survive. Though there's been a lot of tough talk, many of the most impactful propositions have been kicked to the gutter, including a crackdown on the size of financial firms.

Meanwhile, Goldman is prancing along, having earned $15 billion in profits over the past 12 months and set aside $17 billion -- or roughly $470,000 per employee -- for compensation. While new regulations may take a bite out of financial profits, and tamp down the dangers, it would appear that we'll ultimately have to hope that either concerns over the dangers of companies like Goldman have been overblown, or that more drastic action will be taken after the next collapse.

BP has promised to pay all "legitimate claims" that arise from the disaster and there are signs that it is making good on that line, despite limited legal obligation. As of May 30, the company had paid out $35 million on 11,600 claims from fisherman, shrimpers, and the like.

The final chapter of this drama is far from written, though. The final bill for BP will likely run in the billions, and the company's often cagey response raises questions over whether it will be as cooperative as its PR campaign suggests.

With investigations ongoing, it's also still unclear whether the disaster was primarily due to a lack of contingency plans while working with a hugely complex undertaking, or whether the company knowingly cut corners in order to save money. And while there has been a freeze put on deepwater drilling for the time being, we'll have to wait and see whether this will lead to regulatory changes and/or sanctions against BP.

Your call
In the court of public opinion, both of these companies have been tarred and feathered. But which company do you think deserves the harsher sentence? Take the Motley Poll below and then chime in with your thoughts in the comments section lower down the page.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.