Jamie Dimon

Jamie Takes His Shots; Sheila Gets Constructive

I guess Jamie Dimon just got tired of taking shots from people he considers to be, intellectually speaking, a few fries short of a Happy Meal. While sometimes criticized for being an apple polisher for the left, he recently made it clear to an audience in Columbus, Ohio, that he’s an equal opportunity “disparager” of politicians from both sides of the aisle.

He earned applause for comments on the importance of improving urban public schools, and the political ineptitude in Washington, D.C., hammering policy-makers on several occasions for “reams of bad policy.”

“I don’t blame Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “I blame them all.”

I guess Jamie’s still bent about being kicked around in a House hearing a few years ago. He’s usually treated with kid gloves by most polls, so it’s understandable that he was shocked when someone actually threw a high hard one at his head in public. Still, his blame game has a lot of players.

He also had blunt advice about building a strong company.

“Fire the a–holes,” he said to laughs. “They will destroy your companies.”

OK, so if you fired all the a-holes in Congress, you’d have a barren wasteland. Come to think of it, that sounds pretty much like what we have with all the a-holes still in place. I guess that also applies to most big banks, as well, though, doesn’t it?

A-holes: We’re what made America great.

While Dimon’s remarks didn’t come as a shock, recent remarks by another character who made her bones during the last banking meltdown did stun this observer, because they actually made sense (paid subscription required).

[Sheila Bair] [t]he former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is calling for a legislative solution she argues could significantly diminish regulatory burden on community banks: giving regulators the power to exempt institutions with less than $10 billion of assets from existing and new regulations.

Community bankers are lobbying for specific exemptions from specific provisions of law. Bair thinks that the approach is too narrow.

Bair said bankers should push for a broader solution, one that could fix many of those problems and future ones that arise. She said too often regulators feel like they have to start applying regulations geared for larger institutions to smaller ones.

“There is this fear that if you don’t do something you are going to look weak if you aren’t dealing with the small banks the same way as big banks,” she said.

But if Congress provided an explicit directive to regulators to consider granting small banks an exemption from rules they implement, that trend could begin to turn around. It would allow regulators to craft streamlined rules for small banks, effectively giving a stamp of approval to a two-tiered regulatory system, a concept that many lawmakers already endorse.

 “This might inform more of a two-tiered approach,” Bair said. “It’s clean, simple, easy to write… I don’t know why anyone would object to it.”

It would also empower regulators to act rather than having them return to Congress asking for an exemption. That is currently the case with the Volcker Rule, a Dodd-Frank provision that places limits on bank investment in private equity and hedge funds. Fed officials have asked Congress to exempt small banks from the rule.

As Bair also points out, her suggested approach seems to take the subject of community bank regulatory relief out of bitter partisan arguments over “rolling back” the “reforms” of Franken-Dodd. Even Princess Fauxcahontas might support such an approach, especially if she’s on her meds when it comes up for a vote.

Critics raise legitimate concerns, including whether $10 billion is too low a threshold, and whether exempting broad swaths of regulations from such legislative coverage could gut the effectiveness of the “relief” intended to be granted to smaller institutions. Other commentators raised my major concern: regulatory discretion means that regulators can decide not to act or to act ineffectively. They could also use their discretion to act in ways that promote something other than what objective observers would consider a proper goal (such as punishing gun dealers, online dating services, porn stars, payday lenders, or that annoying guy in the back of the bus who won’t give up his seat to an obviously expectant mother).

Even with those concerns, her proposal is worth considering. Since, in the past, we’ve dumped on her like a DFW public works dump-truck with a load of sand-and-salt barreling down an icy freeway in February when she acts in ways we think maybe “unwise” (Can you say “industrial bank moratorium”? I knew that you could!), we’ll give her her props when she casts a pearl before this swine.

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