The insolvent United States banking system

lessons from J.P. Morgan Chase – Published on Pambazuka News, by Horace Campbell, May 17, 2012.

As central bankers from China to Venezuela and from Argentina to Japan are seeking ways to exit from the contagion of the speculative trading of US bankers, progressive forces must renew the call for the nationalization of the big banks, which are supposed to be too big to fail … //  

  • … JPMorgan Chase is currently one of the biggest banks in the world supposedly with $2.1 trillion in assets and more than 239,000 employees. I used the word ‘supposedly’ because JP Morgan Chase was one of the recipients of more than$26 billion of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the American International Group (AIG) in September 2008. Troubled Assets was the term coined by the US government to hide from the world the state of the insolvency of the US banking system where the big banks had overextended themselves in the housing bubble issuing what was then called mortgage backed securities. These banks are still mired in the toxic mess from the orgy of speculation of that era and JP Morgan compounded its own risky position by taking over the bad bank, Washington Mutual.
  • The Bank JP Morgan Chase grew bigger and riskier after absorbing two of the failed banks at the center of the MBS debacle. JPS acquired Bears Stearns and Washington Mutual. Hence on top of its own involvement in the casino economy, JP Morgan Chase had taken on two failed banks in an attempt to save the US financial system.
  • The Tarp instrument was the means through which the US government had ‘bailed out the banks and investment houses in 2008. JP Morgan Chase was involved in the same credit default swaps (CDS) that was at the core of the gambling that brought down the system in 2008. The speculative activities of the Banks have increased since 2008 and now the press is seeking to lay the blame on one derivatives trader in London. According to the media, speculation by a derivatives trader in London has produced a $2 billion trading loss for JP Morgan Chase. It is still not clear the extent of the loss but we know that it is in the same category as the losses at MF Global last year. These losses add to the scandal after scandal and are supposed to be on par with the other debacles of 2008 when two major Wall Street institutions, Bear Stearns and then Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. This year the progressive forces must renew the call for the nationalization of the big banks which are supposed to be too big to fail.



  • JP Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase. He has been the most active among the bankers in manipulating the system playing both sides of the political game and arguing against the regulation of the banks. Jamie Dimon was paid over US $23 million last year and now it is coming out that it is the accounting scams that produced the paper profits that enabled the big bonuses for Dimon and the traders who were urged to make riskier bets. Dimon has been the most active in the press and in his visits to the Obama White House. He has argued for the ‘markets’ to take their course when his bank has been in operation in a world that is beyond the reach of markets. While the world of these bankers is beyond the ‘market’ these are the financiers who promote the myth that the development of a generalized market (the least regulated possible) and democracy are complimentary to one another. The same bankers who argue that the economic sphere and the political sphere are separate and that the market does not need the state are the same bankers who are expending billions to lobby so that the limited regulations proposed by the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010 are not affected. The Dodd-Frank legislation included one particular clause called the Volcker rule that was supposed to ban proprietary trading by the lords of the universe.
  • Jamie Dimon has been described by Barack Obama as one of the smartest bankers in the United States. Obama was simply exposing the subservience of the federal government to the bankers who are the same group pouring millions into both campaigns. The bankers are ensuring that whichever party wins in November, the US banking system will be protected. Barack Obama timidly called for regulating JP Morgan while actively engaging the soliciting of funds from one of the most notorious ‘private equity’ firms in New York. The close relationship between the private equity firms and the bankers constitute the power of the top one per cent and the US government acts to serve this one per cent. After the big scare of 2008 there was fear internationally that there would be a run on the dollar. It was this fear that induced the members of the US government to pass the Dodd-Frank Legislation to prevent the obscene conflict of interest of the banks and investment houses. The expedient which was supposed to prevent the conflict of interest was the Volcker rule, named after the former Treasury Secretary of an era before financialization. The rule placed trading restrictions on financial institutions. In the 2010 legislation, the Volcker rule separates investment banking, private equity and proprietary trading (hedge fund) sections of financial institutions from their consumer lending arms. Banks are not allowed to simultaneously enter into an advisory and creditor role with clients, such as with private equity firms. The Volcker rule aims to minimize conflicts of interest between banks and their clients through separating the various types of business practices financial institutions engage in.
  • JP Dimon has been the leader in opposing the Volcker rule because his organization has been at the forefront of the practice where a hedge fund is operating inside a commercial bank. Commercial banks are federally insured and are different from investment banks. Under the rules of the so called market, bankers are not supposed to take deposits from customers and then use the same deposits to make speculative bets. This was not supposed to happen but when the banks became huge money machines, they operated above the law. This is how a bank such as JP Morgan controls assets that are worth 20 per cent of the GDP of the USA.


  • … It is now understood by these sober elements in the USA that the Big Banks may be not only too big to fail, but also too big to save.
  • The politicians in the USA are compromised and refuse to see the reality. It is the task of the progressive forces to keep the discussions on the JP Morgan losses on the table in order to educate the people on the nature of the depression. The major media houses such as the New York Times are attempting to manage this story saying that this $3-4 billion loss is a drop in the bucket. From the financial papers there is the buzz that one’s loss is another person’s gain. This is cold comfort to the poor all over the world who are suffering in the midst of this depression. In 2008 the government socialized the losses while the profits were privatized. The bailout was one of the biggest transfers of wealth from the poor of the world to the rich. These bankers now need another bail out and the US government will have to increase the debt ceiling.
  • For the moment the Occupy Wall Street Movement has made it impossible for the government to bail out the banks again. However, far from bailing out the bankers, speculators such as Corzine of MF Global and Jamie Dimon should be prosecuted. It is not enough to say that what JP Morgan was doing was inappropriate from a federally insured depository institution. It is time for the people to call for these banks to be taken over and the big bankers removed.
  • It is now time for audacity and more audacity. Nationalization and political education at the moment is more important than the elections. Bankers like JP Morgan profit from war and these forces want another big war so that the capitalists can recover. The peace and justice forces must be more vigilant. The JP Morgan Chase debacle heightens the desperation of the top one per cent in the USA.

(full long text).

Link: FINANCIAL IMPLOSION: Global Derivatives Market at $1,200 Trillion Dollars … 20 Times the World Economy, on Global, on Washington’s Blog, May 20, 2012.

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