Donald Trump is getting the lion’s share of attention in the Republican circus right now, but he is hardly the only 1-percenter who is utterly out of touch. The media loves Trump for his arrogant grandstanding and his remarkably unfiltered quotes — they make him so much less boring than every other presidential candidate. The fact, though, is that the arrogance among wealthy elites in this country is so high right now that aside from his showmanship, Trump really isn’t all that much out of the 1-percent mainstream.
Today’s example is Jeb Bush’s statement that people in this country need to work harder. The economic reality is that Americans already work harder than citizens in any other industrialized country; increased productivity is vastly outstripping wage gains; and a huge amount of workers work three or four jobs in order to (just barely) stay afloat. Bush’s statement is not only out of touch but insulting. It is in some ways even worse than Romney’s “47 percent” remarks: Not only are too many people leeches (those damn Social Security recipients, veterans, and disabled kids!), but the lazy ones who areworking need to work harder.
It’s not just politicians, though: Wealthy and powerful financiers regularly show a level of hubris that makes the pols look modest. They say a lot of ridiculous things on a regular basis, but my colleague Lauren Windsor broke a story this week that shows one of these masters of the universe, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, at his arrogant worst.
Really, the stuff he is saying is stunning, even for him. The London Whale? “Shit happens.” The financial crisis? Wall Street needs to “do a slightly better job.” Financial regulations burdening JPMorgan Chase? Not to worry; they will “go away.”
I want to highlight one thing in particular about Dimon’s remarks, a revealing moment where he is mounting an impassioned defense of how progressive and wonderful Wall Street is. He spends a lot of time bragging about how great they pay people in their companies. And if you look at the statistics, the average pay at firms like JPMorgan Chase is better than average.
But here’s the thing about averages: If I’m the CEO and make $20 million a year and the nine execs immediately under me each take home $5 million a year but the other 90 people in my company are each making $20,000 a year, the average comes out to over $668,000 a year, a damn good average. But it doesn’t mean that 90 percent of the workers in my company are living high off the hog.
In case you think this is all theoretical, check out this study from the Committee for Better Banks. What it shows is that, among other things, bank teller wages are so low that a third of them are on public assistance, which sounds a lot more like Walmart than Wall Street.
Dimon’s answer for a young banker who was worried that he might not be able to get as rich as the current generation atop Wall Street’s mountain of gold was even more troubling. He says not to worry, because there are going to be plenty of new billionaires to service.
But perhaps the most concerning of everything Dimon said was his reply to the question of whether JPMorgan Chase should be broken up: No, because profits are set to get bigger, since “astronomical” regulatory, political, and legal burden on his bank “will go away.” He did not explain how or why those burdens would go away, so we are left to wonder: Is Dimon assuming that the next president, whoever he or she may be, will be more malleable to Wall Street and willing to help all their regulatory, legal, and political problems disappear?
It is up to the progressive movement, and to all non-1-percent Americans who care that Wall Street continues to arrogantly run roughshod over their finances, to make sure that the political, legal, and regulatory “burden” does not go away. We need to keep organizing to fortify the barricades to stop Dimon’s prediction from coming true.
You know, Donald Trump will be Donald Trump: He will never stop saying the goofy stuff he says, whether running for president or not. And we already know that other Republicans like Jeb Bush believe arrogant things like the myth that most Americans just need to work harder. It’s outrageous, but we know it’s true that they think that, whether they say it publicly or not. But the Dimon remarks are in some ways more chilling and more important, because it is people like Jamie Dimon who have more power than most politicians. After all, it’s Wall Street that holds the purse strings on Washington.