In the wake of an economic crash caused in large part by financial wizards passing paper back and forth without creating anything, panelists at the Clinton Global Initiative today discussed how to make banking more socially useful. The discussion inevitably wound its way to the regulatory reform package currently before Congress, at which point JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon seized the opportunity to attack the idea of creating a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA):
We need to simplify and strengthen our system, not add. We’re trying to just add multiple layers of regulation. I tell people, if our legal department didn’t do a good job, we would fix our legal department. The government would create another legal department. [laughter] And all you’re doing is replicating the same thing in a different form.
However, the CFPA is not meant to replicate existing agencies, but to fill a void that currently exists, as no agency is solely responsible for consumer protection. It will also remove the consumer financial protection responsibilities from the other regulators, such as the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Trade Commission, in a sense providing some of the simplification that Dimon says is necessary.
“I think clearly you have had a lot of abuses, and whatever was on the books wasn’t being enforced,” said Morris Goldstein, a former top official at the International Monetary Fund and a researcher for the Peterson Institute of International Economics. “I think it makes sense to try to wrap it together and give someone the responsibility to deal with the great bulk of it.”
With his choice of language disparaging the CFPA, Dimon is channeling the Chamber of Commerce, which is circulating ads warning against the CFPA proposal that read “maybe instead of making government bigger, we should focus on making government better.” Plus, as CAP’s Andrew Jakabovics and Jeff Chapman found, JP Morgan was no angel during the subprime boom:
JP Morgan Chase, like other major banks in 2006, was much more likely to charge higher prices to African-American and Hispanic borrowers than whites and Asians, even among high-income borrowers. Over two-thirds of JP Morgan Chase’s higher-priced lending was done through a subprime arm—Chase Manhattan Bank.
As David Lazarus put it in the Los Angeles Times, “if banks play fair and keep their noses clean, they’ll have nothing to fear. So why are they so fiercely opposed to having a new cop patrolling the neighborhood?” Indeed, the banks look like they are using the spectre of big government to defend their right to rip-off and deceive consumers.