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Just admit it: No matter that casual Friday took over the whole workweek some years back, and that T-shirts and bluejeans are now the default uniform in most offices. We still equate men in suits with power.
Bankers know this, and that is why they still wear suits.
A few years ago, when I was editing a couple business newspapers in Michigan, I got a call one morning from an officer of Bank One to inform me that its CEO, Jamie Dimon, was in Grand Rapids and that, if we were so inclined, Dimon would make time to chat with one of our reporters that afternoon.
Dimon, I was told, was willing to speak to one area television station - his handlers chose the big station in that region, of course - and one print publication. He chose us.
I said yes as fast as I could and still make that one syllable coherent, then quickly found our most senior reporter in the G.R. office to tell him I wasn't all that concerned about what else he might have on his calendar for the day, he needed to get over to Bank One's local office.
And could he make sure to wear a necktie, I pleaded?
Dimon was, and is, big stuff. Then head of Bank One, he later ascended to president and chief operating officer of JPMorgan Chase when the mega bank bought Bank One.
And then CEO, and later chairman of the board. By 2008, he was a member of the New York Federal Reserve.
That was the same year his bank received $25 billion from the U.S. Treasury - that is, you and me - in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money.
Three years after that, Dimon was given a $23 million package from JPMorgan Chase - heftier than that handed out to any other bank chief.
Later, in 2012, two JPMorgan Chase traders got tangled up in securities fraud while trying to hide the fact that more than $6 billion in derivatives deals had gone wrong. (They were indicted in 2013.)
And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say …
How do big bankers like Dimon manage what some might view as charmed lives? Aside from, I'm sure, a very nice suit?
According to Nomi Prins in her new book, 'All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power,” it's about connections. Oval Office connections.
Indeed, during a 2012 re-election campaign stop on the daytime TV talk show 'The View,” President Obama praised Dimon as 'one of the greatest bankers we have,” Prins notes. Dimon, possibly because of the apparent coziness of such high compliments, skipped contributing to Obama's race that year, the author adds, though the men knew each other from their days in Chicago, Dimon had contributed to previous Obama runs and had been a frequent White House guest, and Obama had laid up some $1 million of his personal cash at JPMorgan Chase.
To prove the point that this isn't a new phenomenon, 'All the Presidents' Bankers” reaches back to the early 1900s, when J.P. Morgan, who controlled 70 percent of the steel industry, began loaning money to the rail industry, and John D. Rockefeller, head of Standard Oil, started investing in utilities, insurance carriers, copper, steel, what have you. Oh, and banks.
The captains of industry, with all that dough of theirs needing some exercise, evolved into the generals of banking. Their influence - and investments - spread overseas, and international matters were important considerations to their ledgers.
So who ran American domestic and foreign policy also was someone to whom they wanted to get close. And, where possible, guide.
Now Prins is not an Illuminati-conspiracy theorist. Before becoming a journalist and writing for Fortune, the New York Times and the Guardian, she was an officer for Goldman Sachs, Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers, among others.
Her book's charge is important as we still suffer the hangover effects of 2008's Great Recession - what New York Times writer Gretchen Morgenson in her excellent 2011 book 'Reckless Endangerment” called 'an economic whodunit, on an international scale” with 'trillions of dollars lost around the world, millions of Americans jettisoned from their homes and 14 million U.S. workers without jobs.”
And I'm not the first to point out America's method for dealing with financial calamities has long worked like this:
1. Crisis occurs.
2. Create leaky regulations solely against those specific actions identified with causing said crisis.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2.
'Bankers dominate the globe using other people's money, and presidents gain command through other people's votes,” Prins writes. '… The most elite U.S. bankers and government officials understand that their positions are mutually reinforcing …
That relationship, the author contends, is 'symbiotic and costly,” as bankers' 'actions (have) crushed the global economy, and they will again.”
The alliances between Wall Street and our government, Prins says, paraphrasing Louis Brandeis, must be broken. Or, she writes, 'they will break us.”
But is Prins correct? By her own admission, U.S. financial superiority around the world is as key to this nation's success as its military strength.
Prins is certainly on the money with this point, and one I've made in this column before: If big bank chiefs continue to come out pretty much unscathed from the consequences of their actions, she says, 'we surely will face more financial crises in the years to come.”
Big banks today seem to view fines as part of doing business - fines that shareholders pay, not the banks' officers.
And so it goes.
' Michael Chevy Castranova is enterprise editor and Sunday business editor of The Gazette. (319) 398-5873; email@example.com