Here’s issue #33 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 5/31/12. The previous issue of the newsletter laid out the rationale and need for strong regulation of the six big banks that dominate the industry. It closed by noting that JPMorgan Chase’s recent multi-billion dollar loss from securities trading has re-focused attention on bank regulation. This issue of the newsletter takes a look at the response to the JPMorgan loss.

The over $2 billion trading loss at JPMorgan has strengthened support for the Volcker Rule, which bans speculative and risky proprietary trading by banks. It has reinvigorated the discussion about financial institutions that are “too big to fail.” The six biggest US banks are bigger now than they were before the recent financial collapse and have assets ($9.5 trillion) equal to 2/3 of the entire US economy. Many believe that the collapse of any one of them would trigger events that would cripple the US economy. Therefore, despite the provisions of the Dodd-Frank law that state there will be no future bailout, many find it hard to believe that a bailout wouldn’t happen because these huge banks truly are too big to fail. [1]

Opponents of stronger bank regulation will characterize the push for the Volcker Rule and splitting up the six big banks as an attack on successful businesses, business people, and the wealthy. But JPMorgan CEO Dimon’s own reputation disproves this. Until the current fiasco, he and his leadership at JPMorgan had been praised and celebrated. The call for strong regulation is not an attack on success or wealth, but on bad and unethical business practices, failures of risk management, greed, and bad judgment that harm the public good. [2]

Because of the historical inability of these banks to control risk, as was just demonstrated by the best of them, and because of the inability of government to effectively regulate, oversee, and hold accountable these extremely large, complex, and powerful financial corporations, many experts are arguing that breaking them up into smaller entities is the only real solution. These experts include four regional Federal Reserve presidents and the head of research at one of the regional Federal Reserve banks. [3]

One example of the power of these banks and the conflicts of interest that exist in our financial system is that JPMorgan CEO Dimon sits on the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Among other responsibilities, it regulates and oversees JPMorgan and the other Wall Street banks. Many experts see this as a major conflict of interest and are calling on him to step down. For example, Simon Johnson (professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund) says, “he should, under these circumstances, absolutely step down from that role. It’s completely inappropriate to have such a big bank represented in this fashion.” [4]

Our current recession and financial crisis were caused by bad risk management, unethical business practices, and greed at our large financial institutions coupled with a failure of government oversight, enforcement, and regulation. The result has been high unemployment, extensive loss of homes and home value, and large losses of revenue for governments at the federal, state, and local levels. The bailout of the financial industry and the steep loss of revenue due to the recession are major factors contributing to the large federal government deficit with which we are struggling.

The big banks are working hard to weaken and delay (if not prevent) the implementation of the Volcker Rule and support for it. I am amazed they have any credibility to lobby against regulation after the financial debacle and recession they just caused. Some of their supporters, including in Congress, appear to have an ideology that corporations can do no wrong and that there is no such thing as a good regulation. Others, I believe, are swayed by the large campaign contributions from the financial sector and the new potential of unlimited spending by it through Super PACs.

The Volcker Rule is needed to prevent proprietary trading losses, like the one just experienced at JPMorgan, from seriously impacting our banking system, our federal government, and our economy. It is one, critically important step in regulation and oversight of our financial system that is necessary to reduce and, hopefully eventually eliminate, the potential for too big to fail banks again requiring a taxpayer bailout and crashing our economy.

[1]       Moyers, B. & Johnson, S., 5/17/12, “Are JPMorgan’s losses a canary in a coal mine?” Common Dreams

[2]       Editorial, 5/15/12, “Dimon in the rough,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Rohde, D., 5/11/12,  “Break up the big banks,” Reuters

[4]       Moyers, B. & Johnson, S., see above


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