JPMorgan

  • The Pope’s Message on Ecology and Economy

    September 22nd, 2015 by ewalsh
    Obama Pope

    Image courtesy of Slate.com

     

    How to reconcile the “invisible hand” with the “Golden Rule?” That question first preoccupied my mind while I was a Managing Director at (the old) JPMorgan in the late 1990’s and inspired the creation of Capital Institute in 2010. Too often, discussion around this question devolves into the same shallow debate (Capitalism versus Communism or Socialism) we see now in response to Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home, in anticipation of his visit to the United States this week. While social outcomes across economic systems are rightly the subject of continuous debate, the truth is, no system of political economy that has operated in modern times is sustainable from an ecological perspective: not present day Capitalism; not the Social Democracies of Scandinavia; and certainly not our experiences with Communism in the Soviet Union or China. Marxist scholars will correctly argue that true Marxism has yet to be tried on a large scale. I would say the same is true for the free enterprise system Adam Smith imagined when he coined the phrase “invisible hand” in his Wealth of Nations, where he explained the critical role self-interest plays in a free market economy:

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

    But Smith’s “self-interest” should not be confused with Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” that permeates modern finance-driven capitalism. Students of Smith are aware that the philosophical underpinnings of his thinking appear in his earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It is there that Smith laid out his central idea that individual selfish acts would be self-regulated in our human nature by what he called “sympathy” (what today translates better as “empathy”). The book begins:

    “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it…That we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others, is a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous or the humane…The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.”

    In other words, Smith believed that the invisible hand would be constrained

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    by an ethic of reciprocity, what is generally referred to as the “Golden Rule” (i.e. do unto others as you would have them do unto you). Such a humanistic ethic of empathy and compassion is universal, uniting virtually all great religions and wisdom traditions across cultures throughout the ages. No government intervention required. It’s certainly difficult to reconcile certain aspects of modern day capitalism with a free enterprise system guided by a humanistic invisible hand built on an ethic of reciprocity that Adam Smith envisioned a quarter century earlier. So where did we get lost? First, we must embrace intelligently designed-market based solutions that will be essential for the energy system transition ahead. And while we can justifiably rant about lost morals, there is a systemic answer to where modern capitalism has lost its way that is subtler, and lies in the encyclical itself when Francis refers to the “reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life.” Reductionism of course is the useful method of analysis dating back to the Enlightenment in which we break down what’s complicated into its component parts. But in doing

    so, we too often lose sight of the whole – always greater than the sum of the parts – sometimes with disastrous consequences. Silos in academia and companies, the primacy of shareholder value still taught in most business schools, the 2008 financial collapse, and our failure to manage complex challenges like climate change via special interest delegations are well-known manifestations of our over-reliance on reductionist thinking. Smith was part of the Enlightenment thinkers ushering in the Age of Reason and individualism with its forces of logic and analysis over the traditional lines of authority, most notably the overbearing authority of the Catholic Church itself. It would no doubt surprise him to learn that economics had become separated from the humanist impulse underlying his thinking, and that the reductionist method would become conflated with “science” and “technological progress” affecting (and at times overwhelming) “every aspect of human and social life” at the dawn of the 21st century. Modern science (quantum physics, the web of life) understands that everything is connected to everything. So too do all major religions and virtually all wisdom traditions understand this core principle, often summarized by the concept of “oneness.” Our challenge now, after 500 years of amazing progress in many respects, rooted in Enlightenment derived-reductionist thinking, is to usher in what the Pope calls an “integral and integrating vision” in alignment with what Adam Smith himself intuited. Such integral, or holistic thinking lies at the heart of our collaborative journey to a vision for Regenerative Economies at Capital Institute based on illuminating the universal patterns and principles (including reciprocity) that govern all systems that survive in the cosmos, re-uniting once again Ecology, Economy, and a humanist Spirit in harmonious right relationship. The regenerative framework is grounded in the rigor of our latest scientific understanding of all energy flow systems (everything is energy) ranging from how water boils in a pot all the way to complex living systems including human beings, human consciousness, and, we assert, human economies. We can therefore develop the practical metrics needed to monitor and manage regenerative economies effectively, and discover the true path to a broadly shared prosperity in the process. At the heart of the Pope’s important message is a call for a new way to think, not a preference of one ideology over another, much less one religion over another. It is really a call to rediscover what we already know: the beauty of our essential long-standing humanist values and traditions. The reductionist logic of the “progress” of modernity must be subordinated to these core values. Nothing more. Nothing less. How many in our polarized Congress on the right or the left will get it?

  • Can We Escape Bank Regulation by Lawsuit?

    February 10th, 2014 by John Fullerton

    When I worked at JPMorgan in the 80s and 90s, even in the context of deregulation, the concept of “self-regulation” in the financial industry was discussed with a straight face.

    Last week, Better Markets, a sophisticated civil society non-profit organization, run by former Skadden attorney Dennis Kelleher and committed to protecting the public interest in the >> Read more

  • Commodities are Different (In a “Full World”): Part 3

    August 5th, 2013 by John Fullerton

    (This post is the third in an occasional series on why stronger oversight of commodity markets must be a public policy priority.)

    JPMorgan has announced that it plans to exit the physical commodities businesses, while remaining committed to its historic roots in commodity >> Read more

  • What JPMorgan’s Recently Released Internal Reports Unintentionally Say

    February 4th, 2013 by John Fullerton

    After apologizing at Davos – but only to his shareholders – according to William Cohan on the Bloomberg View, the JPMorgan Chairman and CEO hastened to add about 2012, “We did have record profits. Life goes on.”

    It is true; JPMorgan reported a strong financial performance in 2012, “London Whale” trading fiasco notwithstanding. I must admit that despite my 18 >> Read more

  • Of Guns, Whales, Freedom, and Justice

    January 14th, 2013 by John Fullerton

    After visiting an awe-inspiring women’s empowerment program at work in several rural villages north of Delhi, our host at the Ashram, scanning his Blackberry, related the news: a horrific shooting…assault rifle…children slaughtered…in a school…in Connecticut (my son’s school is in the state)…and then after what seemed like an endless pause as I >> Read more

  • Of Ina and Ahab

    October 10th, 2012 by John Fullerton

    In her New York Times Magazine cover story on the fall of the well-regarded Ina Drew titled “Swallowed by the London Whale,” Susan Dominus ends the article quoting Drew’s former colleague who recently lamented with Drew: “You know, Ina, sometimes I think I’d give my right arm to return to those (good ol’) days at Chemical (Bank), you know? >> Read more

  • Will Barclays’ CEO Surprise Us?

    July 2nd, 2012 by John Fullerton

    Like Lloyd Blankfein with the Abacus fiasco, and Jamie Dimon with “the whale trade,” Barclays CEO Bob Diamond has an unparalleled opportunity to surprise us this week during his appearance before Parliament to explain the most recent financial scandal involving the systematic manipulation of LIBOR, the benchmark interbank lending rate upon which hundreds of trillions of dollars >> Read more

  • Is Jamie Dimon’s Business First Class?

    June 18th, 2012 by John Fullerton

    JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon will today, once again, stand before the authors of Dodd-Frank and attempt to make the case for why a $2 billion trading loss was a stupid mistake, not a willful breach of at least the intent of the law. Our representatives who wrote the law should hold him to the standards set by JPMorgan’s own Code of Conduct: following the spirit and intent, not just the >> Read more

  • 10 Questions JPMorgan’s Board of Directors Should be Asking

    May 14th, 2012 by John Fullerton

    Much has been written about the trading—not hedging—debacle at JPMorgan. Jamie Dimon’s mea culpa is intended to head off deeper questions. No cover-up on his watch—get out in front, be direct, deal with it, move on. Right? Not so fast. JPMorgan’s board has a responsibility to probe more thoughtfully into the uncomfortable truth about >> Read more

  • Financial Statesmanship for a New Economy

    March 19th, 2012 by John Fullerton

    Reactions to departing Goldman derivatives salesman Greg Smith’s “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” which appeared as an op-ed in the New York Times last week, have ranged from the hyperbolic — Robert Reich’s >> Read more

  • Commodities are Different (in a “Full World”)

    June 13th, 2011 by John Fullerton

    Foreign Policy’s recent “How Goldman Sachs Created the Food Crisis” reflects the dangerous, myopic thinking all too prone to “blame Wall Street” that is a natural consequence of Wall Street’s appalling, anti-social behavior in recent >> Read more

  • “US Debt Default Would Be a Moral Disaster”

    May 22nd, 2011 by John Fullerton

    So declared JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon regarding the prospect of a US default on its debt, after which he received a standing ovation at the University of Colorado’s Denver School of Business. Hmm…Let’s do a little press review – the following items quoted from recent news articles:

    • JPMorgan Chase recently lost a class-action lawsuit >> Read more