Welcome to this week’s episode of the Biggest Loser, Too Big to Fail Bank edition!
Each week we tally up the bad behavior of a banker who took taxpayers’ money in the bailout, only to engage in more obnoxious antics calculated to hurt the very taxpayers whose generosity has guaranteed the bankers’ gazillion dollar annual compensation.
This week we’re featuring a surprise guest, a banker who, in the past, the press fawned over as one of the savviest Wall Street titans, who managed to actually enhance his reputation during and after the 2008 financial collapse.
Please welcome JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, whose bank is the biggest in the nation, with total assets of $2.3 trillion.
He’s not one of those CEOs who presides over a big bank that everybody assumes is a zombie, like Bank of America and Citibank.
No, Dimon and his bank actually made money. He was presumed to know what he was doing. Especially by President Obama, who welcomed him to the White House on numerous occasions.
And Dimon has distinguished himself as the most vocal opponent of bank regulation, which Dimon says could be bad, not just for him, but for America.
Dimon is tops in the public relations game – his reputation wasn’t tarnished even after federal authorities found that his bank was improperly foreclosing on the nation’s veterans and JPMorgan Chase had to pay $45 million two months ago to settle a lawsuit.
Dimon was still invited to the White House and fancy seminars where the attendees hung on his every word.
That was before Dimon admitted last week that one of his top traders had lost $2 billion on trades that were supposed to hedge against other risky bets that the banks’ traders were taking.
These were bets that were supposed to reduce the bank’s risks, not cost it $2 billion.
It’s just the latest evidence that not even the smartest banker, not even Jamie Dimon, who just a couple of weeks ago had dismissed warnings about the bets as a “tempest in a teapot,” has a clue as to how their own firm’s complicated financial engineering works.
Admittedly, the competition for too big to fail biggest loser is tough because the bailed-out bankers’ behavior has been so bad.
Determining the biggest winners is easy, however: the politicians and lobbyists who have collected millions in campaign contributions and lobbying fees from bankers who have successfully crippled efforts at real reform. JP Morgan Chase’s latest losses will no doubt reinvigorate the debate over financial reform, causing the banks to shovel yet more money to the politicians and lobbyists in their effort to make sure that the only true reform – breaking up the big banks, so they’re not too big to fail – never happens.
Beyond the reality TV theatrics of the political debate, we know who the real losers are – the taxpayers who foot the bill and citizens who are shut out of political debate by the corporations who dominate it with their money.
President Obama and his administration like to brag that taxpayers are making a profit from big chunks of the bailout. But that PR covers up the real story on the bailout: the federal government spent trillions to make the too big to fail banks like JP Morgan Chase bigger and more powerful, not to rein them in.
As Charlie Geist, a Wall Street historian and professor at Manhattan College told Politico, “The guy in the street in 2008 and 2009 was worried about his or her deposits, and now it’s clear they should still be worried.”