Jamie Dimon Casts A Wide Gaze Over His Kingdom, Senses Unrest

It's not easy being king.
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The view from the top can be lonely. Sure, being chief executive and chairman of the nation's largest bank by assets means you have 243,000 “partners” out there. And heading of the Business Roundtable makes you the hero and champion to the nation's fellow chief executives. And yeah, serving on the president's strategic policy forum is neat. Still, heavy lies the crown.

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So Jamie Dimon was in a reflective mood when he penned his most recent annual letter to shareholders, released Tuesday. See, JD could spend the whole thing talking about his amazing financial institution, its fortress balance sheet and $9 billion in annual technological investment – “a Rock of Gibraltar in the best and worst of times for our clients around the world” – but what does it all add up to in the end, other than $28 million in cash and stock options?

So Jamie set his sights over his broader domain – the United States of America – and, despite the “business friendly environment” and growing profits that have greeted his own personal 2017, he sensed a deep unease throughout the kingdom. America, it turns out, is not so great. “Something is wrong,” he wrote:

Low job growth, a lack of opportunity for many, declining wages, students and low-wage workers being left behind, economic and job uncertainty, high healthcare costs and growing income inequality all have created deep frustration. It is understandable why so many are angry at the leaders of America’s institutions, including businesses, schools and governments – they are right to expect us to do a better job. Collectively, we are the ones responsible. Additionally, this can understandably lead to disenchantment with trade, globalization and even our free enterprise system, which for so many people seems not to have worked.

What's holding the fine people of America back? A bunch of things, per Jamie. Education, for one. Healthcare is too costly. We waste money on dumb wars. We lock too many people up. Roads and bridges are crumbling. Immigration needs reform. But most of all, regulations regulations regulations:

Everyone agrees we should have proper regulation – and, of course, good regulations have many positive effects. But anyone in business understands the damaging effects of overcomplicated and inefficient regulations.…By some estimates, approximately $2 trillion is spent on regulations annually (which is approximately $15,000 per U.S. household annually). And even if this number is exaggerated, it highlights a disturbing problem.

Specifically speaking, bank regulations:

We believe (and many studies show) that poorly conceived and uncoordinated regulations have damaged our economy, inhibiting growth and jobs – and this has hurt the average American. We are not looking to throw out the entirety of Dodd-Frank or other rules (many of which were not specifically prescribed in DoddFrank). It is, however, appropriate to open up the rulebook in the light of day and rework the rules and regulations that don’t work well or are unnecessary. Rest assured, we will be responsibly and reasonably engaged on this front. We believe changes can and should be made that preserve the safety and soundness of the financial system and lead to a more healthy and vibrant economy for the benefit of all.

The solution to America's distemper, then, is simple: Let the Jamies of the world fly. Streamline national bank regulators. Reform the corporate tax code. Scale back capital and liquidity requirements. Make mortgage lending easier. Etc. Then America will be great again.

If it all seems a bit magisterial and overbroad for a guy whose job is to lead a big bank and not, say, the Treasury Department – well, maybe that's kind of the point. Because this letter isn't just for shareholders. It's for all of mankind.

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