(c) by Mark Dempsey
Willie Sutton told reporters he robbed banks because "that's where the money is," but Sutton was an amateur compared to Jamie Dimon. In his letter from its CEO, Jamie Dimon cloaks robbery in sanctimony. (Someone sent me that letter, calling it "brilliant," when truly it's just anodyne.) In a bizarre twist Dimon's letter even gives lip service to some progressive solutions to current problems.
The letter itself is politically correct, even eloquent. Nevertheless, Dimon and his pals are parasites. Here's one less sanguine look at Dimon's tenure at the bank. Record fines for criminality are only the beginning of his bad behavior. Then there's the $12 billion bailout JP Morgan Chase got during the Great Recession.
One characteristic of parasites is that they disguise themselves as though they are the host itself, or even "brilliant." Dimon is the problem, no matter how enlightened is his letter--or, more likely, his ghost writer.
Don't get me wrong. He looks good! But let's remember, the traditional picture of evil is not some ugly, horned demon. Lucifer was the most beautiful of angels. Satan is the father of lies. Evil is seductive and deceptive, like Jamie Dimon, who talks pretty while he's picking our pockets.
In the decades since Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton deregulated Wall St, culminating in the Great Recession in 2007, Dimon and his Wall St. pals pulled off what's arguably the biggest theft in human history. Some calculate $100 trillion for the cost of the subprime/derivatives meltdown, or, alternatively, a reduction in U.S. net worth of 40%.
Ten million families lost their homes in that debacle. Republican pollster Frank Luntz reports the Obama administration, which got to handle the fallout from Dimon's behavior, was the first time he held focus groups where people wept, because Wall Street got the gold mine, while Main Street got the shaft. The Great Recession was the Great Depression revisited, this time--luckily--with social safety nets, although there's been a bipartisan, multi-generational political effort to defund those, too.
To truly appreciate the awfulness of Dimon's subprime/derivatives project, and especially Obama's public policy response to it, you have to compare it to the previous biggest-ever bank scandal, the Savings & Loans crisis. When it occurred, that scandal was, by orders of magnitude, the biggest political/financial scandal in U.S. history, costing $150 - $500 billion to cure. Nevertheless, the regulators under Reagan / Bush 41 did their jobs. They filed more than 30,000 referrals for criminal prosecution, and the Justice Dept. prosecuted more than 1200 cases with a 90% conviction rate. They got big fish, too, including Mike Milken and Charles Keating.
Now fast forward to the subprime/derivatives meltdown. In financial terms, the bank scandal itself was 70 times bigger than the S&Ls. Just bailing out a single, Southern California bank (IndyMAC) cost as much as the entire previous S&L bailout.
So... how many referrals for criminal prosecution from the Obama administration? Answer: zero! One of the crookedest attornies general in history, Eric Holder, prosecuted about a dozen cases, all small fish. Instead, the Justice Dept. elected to settle for dimes-on-the-dollar fines from Dimon and his criminal cohort's loot without any admission of guilt from the perps--something that makes the civil cases more difficult to prosecute.
One example: Angelo Mozilo, who made nearly a half billion dollars looting Countrywide Mortgage, settled by paying fines of $20 - $65 million, a tiny fraction of his "earnings," with no admission of guilt. He's a free man now. The only big thief who was jailed was Bernie Madoff, and that was because he turned himself in.
That enabler of criminality, Obama, not only did not prosecute the Iraq war crimes of Bush / Cheney, he promoted the people who supervised torture, and prosecuted the whistleblowers. As truly despicable as Trump was, he is impossible to even imagine without the supine precedent set by Obama. In the 2016 presidential election, the electorate was so disgusted that the anti-Obama, Donald Trump, won. Even in 2020, Trump won 74 million votes, nearly five million more than any previous presidential candidate. Here's the best description of Trump's appeal I've read:
“Trump will not be defeated by educating voters, by exposing his many foibles and inadequacies. Highlighting what’s wrong with him is futile; his supporters didn’t elect him because they mistook him for a competent administrator or a decent man. They’re angry, not stupid. Trump is an agent of disruption — indeed, of revenge.....Workers now sense that economic justice — a condition in which labor and capital recognize and value each other — is permanently out of reach; the class war is over and it was an absolute rout: insatiable parasites control everything now [and write remorseful, self-deprecating letters to their shareholders, like Dimon], and even drain us gratuitously, as if exacting reparations for the money and effort they spent taming us. The economy itself, and the institutions protecting it, must be attacked, and actually crippled, to get the attention of the smug patricians in charge. Two decades of appealing to justice, proportion, and common decency have yielded nothing." -- (by Thomas Greene from Noteworthy):
As long as we credit Jamie Dimon with anything other than criminal behavior, we'll continue to get the "reign of the parasites" and the smug patricians who enable them.
But that's the trouble with the current level of attention paid public policy. People are busy, or distracted. They don't have time or energy to inform themselves about the details. The Federal Reserve says 40% of Americans (Dimon's letter says 30%) can't manage a $400 emergency without selling something or borrowing. These people are too busy just surviving for a civics lesson. And apparently Dimon is lying just to keep in practice.
The idea that Dimon's letter should even mention our banana-republic level of income inequality, the tattered safety nets, the problems educating the population, or any of the other many ills he cites is cheap talk, but a good sign. It looks like accepted wisdom in even on Wall Street has finally calculated that the poor have been immiserated about as much as is possible without an insurrection. Our smug patricians (finally!) want to ease up on the torture inflicted by the financial sector in its pursuit of profit over all.
Dimon's letter has the nerve to say "We are hampered by short-term thinking that’s never comprehensive"--a hilarious remark coming from someone whose annual report cites quarter over quarter growth in his bank's income. Gosh, I wonder where that short-term thinking originated?
Dimon even issues a mea culpa: "But we are partly responsible – for we prioritized shareholder interests and sometimes narrow self-interests over creating broader opportunity for all in America. Successful businesses can literally and figuratively 'drive by' our worst problems (think inner cities) and still thrive."
He continues, decrying "Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela, to name a few – all countries with tremendous natural resources that allowed, in the name of their people, their economies to be destroyed." Let's see, Wall Street's vulture capitalists--perhaps even funded by the likes of Dimon's bank--killed a bond deal that might have let Argentina have some economic breathing room, and Cuba and Venezuela had the temerity to share their wealth with the poor rather than the plutocrats. Yep, it wasn't U.S. sanctions that destroyed the Cuban and Venezuelan economies, it was those crazy Latins who "allowed" it to happen.
What can one say when faced with such monstrous hypocrisy? I believe this picture of a spontaneous Chilean demonstration against the Chilean plutocrats Dimon supported answers that question:
View of the protest of an estimated 1.2 million people in Santiago, October 25, 2019.
Note the absence of signs. No one had time to prepare them, the protest was that spontaneous. In India, a protest 200 times larger, a reported quarter billion people, filled the streets to protest the Modi government's abuses promoting the capitalism Dimon and JP Morgan Chase advocate.
Here's some reporting about Dimon's more recent public proclamations: "After scarfing up a whopping $12 billion public bailout for JPMorgan Chase, the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, wants an itemized list of expenditures the Biden administration has in mind for a corporate tax increase.
'Just throwing money ... doesn’t work,' Dimon said in a taped interview posted Thursday for the Investment Company Institute’s general membership meeting. 'We already waste tremendous sums of money,' he noted, referring to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan." (from Huffington Post)
Economic expert Yves Smith's comment about banking in general: "a banking industry that creates global crises [like the subprime/derivatives scandal] is negative value added from a societal standpoint. It is purely extractive. Even though we have described its activities as looting (as in paying themselves so much that they bankrupt the business), the wider consequences are vastly worse than in textbook looting."
His letter to stock holders indicates that maybe Dimon is having second thoughts about the purity of unregulated capitalism. Either way, calling him "brilliant" is beyond generous. It's delusional.