I hate to beat up on Jamie Dimon so badly, especially since I don’t know him personally and I’m sure he is a fine fellow, but as Bill Maher would say, hey, they give you the comedy lines and you just have to take it, right?
Any honest evaluation of the facts would conclude that JPMorgan, to its — and Jamie Dimon’s — credit, did manage to avoid many of the bad investments that brought other banks to their knees in the 2007-2008 contagion.
His demonstration of sound judgment and careful planning gave Jamie the role of class valedictorian in Wall Street’s war to delay, and/or repeal the righteous pile of financial reform crawling its way through Congress and occasionally spewing watered-down effluence like the Dodd-Frank bill.
Mr. Dimon has been particularly open in his opposition to the so-called Volcker Rule, which would prevent banks with government-guaranteed deposits from engaging in “proprietary trading,” (basically speculating with depositors’ money). Why? Because everything at JP Morgan Chase is under control and we don’t need no stinking badges, thank you very much.
Until last week maybe. A minor screw-up. $2 Billion in trading losses. Well, there are really no excuses as Jamie said, but hey, they’re human. They make mistakes too. Still, no reason to lose our minds and start regulating like crazy; after all, it WAS their money, right? Well, not exactly. It turns out that the bank’s “money” is in fact money backed by taxpayer’s guarantees.
We know from history that banking has always been subject to destructive panics, that occasionally threaten to bring down the entire financial system. In spite of arm-chair economists like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and perhaps especially our buddy, Paul Ryan, bad banking is not always the result of government intervention or the meddling liberal fools in Congress.
In the golden ages of American Capitalism, between 1700 and 1840, or between 1890 and 1929, we had minimal government and no Fed (to speak of) and yet, we still managed a financial panic roughly once every six years. Some of them real beauts.
After the greatest depression in our history, our Congressional leaders arrived at a reasonable solution that seemed to work really well for the next 60 years or so. We implemented systems of guarantees and oversight that protected both the citizen depositors and the government who guaranteed those deposits. Deposits were insured, so that panic resulting from the perception of a failing bank was limited, and banks were prevented from gambling and abusing the privilege they enjoyed from those insured deposits, guaranteed by taxpayers.
The significance of those regulations prevented banks, holding government-guaranteed deposits, from engaging in high-risk market speculation. Speculation in investment products like CMOs and CDO tranches and Knock Out Straddles.
What? You didn’t have any Knock Out Straddles? Lehman Bothers did.
But, I guess we really didn’t like financial stability. Or, we all saw a movie in 1987 called Wall Street and decided that being Master of the Universe would be pretty cool. Jamie Dimon certainly thought so. He was 31 when that movie came out. Not surprisingly, all of these new forms of banking without government guarantees became the rage, while 50 years of banking regulation was over-turned (by a Democrat by the way) and banks were allowed to take on increasing risks. We, the people, got exactly what we deserved.
It is mind-blowing to me that we have to debate and argue about whether we should restore the safeguards that brought us 50 years without a major banking panic. We, the people who got shafted by the bankers, their lobbyists and the politicians they bankroll, have to cajole our Congressmen to re-instate the Glass-Steagall act of 1933? After we allowed those very same bankers to be bailed out by our own tax dollars? Why?
We are the same people, at least 48-50% of us, who want to cast a vote for a guy who has promised to repeal Dodd-Frank and any other banking regulations that come down the pipe? Really?
We can thank Jamie and JP Morgan for shining a spotlight on the reasons we need to tighten regulations on banks, but it really won’t do any good as long as we continue to pretend that none of this matters. Or, that we can’t make a difference. Or, that it’s all too weird and hard to understand and the banks won’t really do anything that stupid again, would they?
You may not be able to fix it, but with one vote, you could make it worse.