Obama Should Be Attacking Casino Capitalism — Both Romney’s Bain and JPMorgan (JPM)

I wish President Obama would draw the obvious connection between Bain Capital and JPMorgan Chase (JPM).

That way his so-called “attack” on private equity is neither a personal attack on Mitt Romney nor a generalized attack on American business.

It’s an attack on a particular kind of capitalism that Romney and JPMorgan both practice: Using other peoples’ money to make big bets which, if they go wrong, can wreak havoc on the economy.

It’s the substitution of casino capitalism for real capitalism, the dominance of the betting parlor over the real business of America, financial innovation rather than product innovation.

It’s been terrible for the American economy and for our democracy.

It’s also why Obama has to come out swinging about JPMorgan. The JPMorgan Chase debacle would have been prevented if the Volcker Rule were sufficiently strict, prohibiting banks from using commercial deposits to make bets except very specific offsetting bets (hedges) on narrow classes of trades.

But Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan have been lobbying like mad to loosen the Volcker Rule and widen that exception to include the very kind of reckless bets JPMorgan made. And they’re still at it, as evidenced by Dimon’s current claim that the rule that eventually emerges would allow those bets.

As a practical matter, the Volcker Rule is hopeless. It was intended to be Glass-Steagall lite — a more nuanced version of the original Depression-era law that separated commercial from investment banking. But JPMorgan has proven that any nuance — any exception — will be stretched beyond recognition by the big banks.

So much money can be made when these bets turn out well that the big banks will stop at nothing to keep the spigot open.

There’s no alternative but to resurrect Glass-Steagall as a whole. Even then, the biggest banks are still too big to fail or to regulate. We also need to heed the recent advice of the Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve, and break them up.

At the same time, there’s no point to the “carried interest” loophole that allows private-equity managers like Mitt Romney to treat their incomes as capital gains, taxed at only 15 percent, when they’ve risked no money of their own.

If private equity were good for America it wouldn’t need this or the other tax preference it depends on, elevating debt over equity. But the private equity industry has huge political clout, which is why these tax preferences remain.

Get it? Bain Capital and JPMorgan are parts of the same problem. The President should be leading the charge against both.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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