What sin has JP Morgan committed other than being big enough to lose billions?

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Some have called for Dimon’s head. Others have invoked the so-called Volcker Rule, bemoaning its current lack of promulgation and calling for regulators to write rules that would be far-reaching and overwhelmingly inhibiting.

In addition to Dimon’s appearances and testimony, the Senate Banking Committee, as well as the House Financial Services Committee, have called upon representatives from financial regulatory bodies to submit testimony on JP Morgan’s trading losses. The questions by Congress range from the ‘how’ to ‘why’ this went undetected by the overseers and what backstops can be installed across the industry to prevent this from happening again.

This is fair. 

A more than $2 billion trading loss by a blue chip firm like JP Morgan inevitably roils the marketplace, inadvertently affecting market caps as well as savings and retirement accounts. 

We can never unwind the connectivity inherent in our markets, nor should we really be looking to. So it’s reasonable to worry over how to prevent one company’s cold from infecting the group, to borrow from a well-known metaphor.

But what are we looking for from Dimon?  An apology?  An admission of guilt? What sin has JP Morgan committed other than being big enough to lose billions of their own money in a quarter and still turn a $4 billion profit?

Did the bank violate the Volcker Rule?  Volcker’s not actually enforceable yet, and full details of the firm’s losses have yet to be disclosed, but all evidence would indicate that JP Morgan did no such thing. 

Was the firm gambling with depositor, taxpayer, or government money? 

No on all accounts.  So why the public outcry for JP Morgan and Jamie Dimon to explain themselves?

I’d like to pose two answers to that question: 1) Anger, and 2) Fear.

Four years ago, housing prices, retirement accounts, income, and employment came tumbling down, and we are mad that no one but taxpayers has paid for that to date. 

Since the crash, Washington lawmakers have crafted the behemoth known as the Dodd-Frank Act, but before all 400-plus rules could be written, along came JP Morgan, a bank which walked out of the 2008 crash seemingly unscathed, and lost more than $2 billion by hedging esoteric synthetic credit products. 

Sounds like reason enough to be plenty mad.

Then there’s fear. We are afraid of anything that smells like the market calamity of 2008. Regardless of how incomparable the two events are, when we hear about big dollar losses and a slew of financial jargon that no one understands, we’re afraid. 

Fear isn’t something that can be assuaged with facts and figures; fear keeps us checking under the bed for monsters long after our intellect tells us there’s no such thing.

I suggest that our anger and our fear have offered us an opportunity. 

Instead of vilifying JP Morgan, let’s use this public call to the carpet as a chance to educate ourselves on the free enterprise that takes place at firms like JP Morgan, and that this time unfortunately resulted in a sizable loss to the bank and its shareholders. Let’s question him – and the assembled regulators – on how JP Morgan could have managed its risk better, and how the marketplace can work to more locally contain the unavoidable ripples that occur from such activity.

Let’s be sure to use this opportunity for the betterment of our free marketplace and not to call a firm out for practicing what we as a country preach.

Rep. Schweikert (R-Ariz.) is a member of the House Financial Services Committee.