In May, JPMorgan Chase was listed as the largest bank in the world with assets at roughly $4 trillion -- some $1.53 trillion of it in derivatives. This was reported a month after the announcement that the bank had posted a record first-quarter profit of $6.5 billion.
Jamie Dimon, the bank's CEO and Chairman, has faced a host of scandals in relation to his management of the megabank, including the loss of roughly $6 billion through the London branch of the bank -- losses that Dimon was accused of hiding. A 300-page report by the U.S. Senate, investigating the “creative accounting” of JPMorgan, noted that the bank “hid losses, did not share information with its regulators, and misled the public” in what one banking regulator referred to as “make believe voodoo magic.” Stated bluntly in The New York Times, JPMorgan Chase, the largest derivatives dealer in the world, “is too big to regulate."
In the midst of the scandal, the bank faced a potential “revolt” of its shareholders in a bid to strip Dimon of his dual role as CEO and Chairman. In confidential government reports which were leaked to The New York Times, the bank was accused of “manipulative schemes” which transformed “money-losing power plants into powerful profit centers” while executives made “false and misleading statements” under oath.
Yet even in the midst of scandal, Jamie Dimon was praised in a storm of support by billionaires, corporate kingpins and media barons. Calling JPMorgan Chase “as good a bank as there is,” New York City mayor and billionaire media baron Michael Bloomberg went on to call Dimon “a very smart, honest, great executive.” News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch praised Dimon as “one of the smartest, toughest guys around,” while Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, referred to him as a “great leader” and said he had earned the “right to hold both Chairman and CEO titles.” To top it off, billionaire investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet, dubbed Dimon “a fabulous banker.”
And the adoration goes all the way to the top rung. In 2009, The New York Times referred to Jamie Dimon as “President Obama’s favorite banker.” In 2010, Obama told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that he didn’t “begrudge” bank CEOs like Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs for their massive bonuses of $17 and $9 million, respectively. Obama explained: "I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.” The president added, “I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen.”
In May of 2012, Obama rushed to Jamie Dimon’s defense in light of the financial scandals, stating that Dimon was “one of the smartest bankers we got.” The Financial Times referred to Dimon as “the last king of Wall Street.” And when finally faced with the decision to strip Dimon of his dual role as chairman and CEO, Obama’s "favorite banker" ended up winning “a decisive victory" by maintaining both his roles.
But this is just the surface of JPMorgan Chase’s financial manipulations. The bank, in fact, was at the forefront of creating Credit Default Swaps (CDS), a key aspect of the derivatives market that led to the inflation and subsequent blowout of the housing bubble. JPMorgan developed these “financial instruments” as a type of insurance policy in 1994, allowing the bank to trade its debt (in the form of loans to corporations and governments) to third parties, thus handing off the risk and removing the debts from its accounts, which allowed it to make further loans. JPMorgan opened up the first CDS desk in New York in 1997, “a division that would eventually earn the name the Morgan Mafia for the number of former members who went on to senior positions at global banks and hedge funds.” Back in 2003, the same Warren Buffet who would later praise Dimon referred to credit default swaps as “financial weapons of mass destruction.”
JPMorgan was also at the forefront in the United States pushing for financial deregulation, particularly the slow-motion dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act that had been put in place in 1933 in response to the financial speculation which had helped spark the Great Depression. After hearing proposals from banks such as Citicorp, JP Morgan and Bankers Trust, which advocated the loosening of “restrictions” put in place by Glass-Steagall, the Federal Reserve Board in 1987 voted to ease many of the regulations. That same year, Alan Greenspan, who had previously been a director of JP Morgan, became the chairman of the Fed. In 1989, the Fed approved an application submitted by JP Morgan, Chase Manhattan, Citicorp and Bankers Trust to further reduce the regulations imposed by Glass-Steagall. In 1990, JP Morgan became “the first bank to receive permission from the Federal Reserve to underwrite securities.”
Financial deregulation accelerated under President Clinton, much to the delight of Wall Street banks, which were then permitted to merge into megabanks, with JPMorgan merging with Chase Manhattan to form JPMorgan Chase. As early as 2006 and 2007, multiple megabanks were beginning to bet against the housing market through various hedge funds, allowing them to make profits on the housing collapse they created. JPMorgan continued to sell mortgages as it bet against the mortgage market, passing on the risk while it hedged its bets to profit from the failure and losses of others. In 2011, the bank paid a $153 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle allegations of “securities fraud.”
In the midst of the financial crisis in 2008, JPMorgan Chase became not only a major criminal, but also a prime beneficiary. In 2007, the global investment bank Bear Stearns was named by Fortune magazine as the second “most admired” financial securities company in the United States, while Lehman Brothers was put in first place. As the financial crisis erupted, Bear Stearns executives “discovered” that they were “nearly out of cash” in March of 2008. The CEO of Bear Stearns, Alan Schwartz, made a phone call to Jamie Dimon -- JPMorgan Chase was the clearing agent for Bear Stearns -- asking for an overnight loan. Dimon, who also sat on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, turned there instead of providing the loan through his own bank. The president of the New York Fed – who was elected by the banks that own the New York Fed – was Timothy Geithner. Geithner began discussions with Bear Stearns, and the following morning he held a meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, where they agreed to an emergency loan for Bear Stearns, providing the funds through JPMorgan Chase.
Over the following day, Geithner and Paulson informed Bear Stearns that it must sell the bank within days, and a deal was negotiated in which JPMorgan Chase would purchase Bear Stearns at $2 per share. Though Dimon had first refused to purchase the failed bank, he now engaged in negotiations with Geithner who won over Dimon by guaranteeing $30 billion for JPMorgan to purchase the sunken bank. Long story short: through the New York Fed, the U.S. government purchased billions of dollars in bad debts made by Bear Stearns, including $16 billion in credit default swaps that were downgraded to “junk” assets, while JPMorgan Chase acquired $360 billion in Bear Stearns assets with little or no risk.
With the purchase of Bear Stearns facilitated by the New York Fed, and for the benefit of JPMorgan, Geithner continued in his role as willing servant to the banks who had elected him as president. Then, in September of 2008 when the insurance conglomerate American International Group (AIG) plunged into crisis and sought support from the government, the Fed and Treasury initially refused. AIG turned to JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, who went to the government to pressure for state support. The New York Fed, with Geithner at the helm, again organized a secret bailout of the institution, valued at $85 billion. In October, the government added an extra $38 billion to the AIG bailout, and the New York Fed provided a further $40 billion in November. Overall, U.S. taxpayers bailed out the insurance giant with $150 billion.
Because many banks kept junk assets with AIG which didn’t affect its balance sheets, the insurance giant was allowed to continue making risky loans. Meanwhile, the New York Fed, noted Bloomberg journalist David Reilly, acted as “a black-ops outfit for the nation’s central bank,” and as a “quasi-governmental institution [which] isn’t subject to citizen intrusions such as freedom of information requests.” The AIG bailout, wrote Reilly, revealed what could be described as a “secret banking cabal.” Through AIG, bailout funds went to American, French, German, British, Swiss, Dutch and even Canadian banks. Goldman Sachs received over $12 billion, and billions also went to Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wachovia, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase.
JPMorgan Chase was using bailout money from the government to purchase other banks and companies. As one executive at the bankcommented in regards to a $25 billion bailout from the government, “I think there are going to be some great opportunities for us to grow in this environment.” The banks repaid the bailout loans from other bailout funds they got from government, siphoning off taxpayer moneyback and forth and rewarding them for their risky behavior. One university study noted that banks with political access – whether through lobbying efforts or board membership on the Fed – were more likely to get bailout funds, and in bigger numbers, than other banks. Notably among the most politically connected banks were Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.
According to a 2012 study by the International Monetary Fund and Bloomberg magazine, JPMorgan Chase continues to receive government support far beyond the bailouts, as it is a major recipient of corporate welfare and state subsidies. In fact, according to the study, the biggest bank in the world gets roughly $14 billion per year in state subsidies and welfare, largely helping “the bank pay big salaries and bonuses.”
The Biggest and Most Connected Bank
Not only is JPMorgan Chase the biggest bank in the world with over $4 trillion in assets, but its power and influence extends far beyond financial matters. It is a major political force in the world, highly integrated within the network of global elites who make up the plutocratic ruling class. As the subject of study for the Global Power Project, I examined 55 people at JPMorgan Chase, including all members of the executive committee, the board of directors and the international advisory council.
Of the 55 individuals examined at the bank, a total of 13 (or roughly 24%) of the individuals were either members or held leadership positions (previously or presently) with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR has been at the heart of the foreign-policy elite of the United States since it was created in 1921. Further, a total of eight JPMorgan officials held leadership positions in the World Economic Forum, the second most represented institutional affiliation of the bank. Holding yearly conferences that bring together thousands of participants from elite financial, corporate, political, cultural, media and other institutions, the WEF is one of the principal forums for the global elite, with JPMorgan operating right there at the center.
The next most represented institution is the Trilateral Commission, with 5 individuals at JPMorgan Chase holding membership in the international think tank – or “global policy group” – uniting elites from North America, Western Europe and Japan (and now also including China, India, and other Pacific-rim nations). The Trilateral Commission itself was founded in 1973 by the CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank – which later merged into JPMorgan Chase – David Rockefeller.
In descending order, the other most highly represented institutions having cross membership between leadership positions with JPMorgan Chase are: the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (4), the Business Council (4), Citigroup (4), Bilderberg (4), the Group of Thirty (4), Sara Lee Corporation (3), Harvard (3), American Express (3), American International Group (3), the Business Roundtable (3), Rolls Royce (3), the Center for Strategic and International Studies – CSIS (3), the European Round Table of Industrialists (3), the Peterson Institute for International Economics (2), the U.S.-China Business Council (2), and the National Petroleum Council (2).
Institutions which hold two individual cross leadership positions with JPMorgan Chase include: the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the University of Chicago, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., General Electric, Asia Business Council, the U.S. President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Coca-Cola Company, National Bank of Kuwait Advisory Board, INSEAD, China-United States Exchange Foundation, Mitsubishi, the Carlyle Group, and the IMF.
Meet the Elites at JPMorgan Chase
It’s worth taking a look at some specific individuals who serve in a leadership and/or advisory capacity to JPMorgan Chase to get an idea of the composition of some of these global plutocrats.
Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, sits on the boards of directors of: the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Harvard Business School, and Catalyst. He is a Trustee of the New York University School of Medicine, a member of the Executive Committee of the Business Council, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum, a member of the Financial Services Forum, and a member of the International Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Members of the board of JPMorgan Chase include James A. Bell, former President of Boeing and a current member of the board of Dow Chemical; Crandall C. Bowles, a director of Deere & Company and the Sara Lee Corporation, a former director of Wachovia, a Trustee of the Brookings Institution, on the Governing Board of the Wilderness Society, and a member of the Business Council and the Economic Club of New York. Other JPM board members include Stephen B. Burke, CEO of NBC Universal and Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation; David M. Cote, the Chairman and CEO of Honeywell International who sits on President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, on the advisory panel to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), and is a member of the Trilateral Commission; and Lee Raymond, director of the Business Council for International Understanding, who sits on the advisory panel to KKR, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and former Chairman of the National Petroleum Council as well as former Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, from which he retired in 2006 with a compensation package of $398 million.
JPMorgan Chase has an International Council which provides advice to the bank’s leadership on economic, political and social trends across various regions and around the world. The International Council is chaired by Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the UK, who also sits as an adviser to Zurich Financial. The Council includes Khalid A. Al-Falih, the President and CEO of Saudi Aramco (Saudi Arabian Oil Company), the world’s largest oil company, who also sits on the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is also on JPMorgan’s International Council, and sits as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a partnership between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Annan is also on the boards of the United Nations Foundation, the World Economic Forum, and he is a member of the Global Board of Advisors of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The Council includes the third richest man in Mexico, Alberto Bailléres, as well as the Chairman and CEO of Telecom Italia, Franco Bernabé, who was the former CEO of Eni, one of the world’s largest oil companies (and Italy’s largest corporation), as well as the former Vice Chairman of Rothschild Europe. Bernabé sits on the board of PetroChina, China’s largest oil company. Bernabé is also a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (a group of roughly 50 major European CEOs who directly advocate and work with EU political leaders in designing and implementing policy), he was a former Advisory Board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the board of FIAT, and is actively a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Meetings.
Martin Feldstein, a prominent Economics professor at Harvard and the President Emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research, is another member of the International Council. Feldstein was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to President Ronald Reagan and sat on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (an “independent” group that advises the president on intelligence matters) under President George W. Bush (from 2007-2009). President Obama appointed Feldstein to the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and he also sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a member of the Trilateral Commission, a participant in Bilderberg Meetings, and is a member of the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait.
Gao Xi-Qing is the Vice Chairman, President and Chief Investment Officer of the China Investment Corporation (CIC), China’s sovereign investment fund. He was referred to by the Atlantic as “the man who oversees $200 billion of China’s $2 trillion in dollar holdings.” Another notable Chinese member of the International Council is Tung Chee Hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, a core policy-making institution in the government of Hong Kong. Tung Chee Hwa is also the Vice Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a major political advisory group in the People’s Republic of China, once chaired by Mao Zedong. Tung Chee Hwa as well is the founder and Chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation, and a former member of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Carla A. Hills is the only woman on the JPMorgan International Council, and is Chairman and CEO of Hills & Company International, a global consulting firm. She was the former United States Trade Representative in the George H.W. Bush administration, where she was the primary negotiator for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). She is also the Co-Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations, and sits on the International Boards of Rolls Royce and the Coca-Cola Company, as well as sitting on the board of directors of Gilead Sciences. Hills is a Counselor and Trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a major American think tank where she also sits as Co-Chair of the Advisory Board (alongside Zbigniew Brzezinski, co-founder of the Trilateral Commission). In addition, Hills is a member of the Executive Committee of both the Trilateral Commission and the Peterson Institute for International Economics, as well as sitting on the boards of the International Crisis Group and the US-China Business Council, as Chair of the National Committee on US-China Relations, and Chair of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Henry Kissinger – former U.S. Secretary of State, National Security Adviser to President Richard Nixon, and Secretary of State to President Ford – also sits on the International Council of JPMorgan. Kissinger was a former adviser to Nelson Rockefeller, who recruited Kissinger as director of the Special Studies Project of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in the 1950s. Kissinger was a director of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1977-1981, is a member of the Trilateral Commission, a former member of the Steering Committee and continuous participant in the Bilderberg Meetings, and is founder and chair of Kissinger Associates, an international consulting and advisory firm. Kissinger Chaired the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America during the Reagan administration, which provided justification for Reagan’s wars in Central America, and he was also a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 1984-1990, advising both Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Alongside Zbigniew Brzezinski, Kissinger was a member of the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy of the National Security Council and Defense Department, established in the late 1980s to develop a long-term strategy for the United States in the world. Kissinger has also been a member of the Defense Policy Board, providing “independent” advice to the Pentagon leadership on matters of foreign policy, from 2001 to the present, for both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Kissinger is also a Counselor and Trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Honorary Governor of the Foreign Policy Association, an Honorary Member of the International Olympic Committee, an adviser to the board of directors of American Express, and is a Trustee Emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition, Kissinger is a director of the International Rescue Committee, the Atlantic Institute, and is on the advisory board of the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, as well as Honorary Chairman of the China-United States Exchange Foundation.
Mustafa V. Koc is also a member of the International Council, and is Chairman of Koc Holding AS, Turkey’s largest multinational corporation. He also sits on the International Advisory Board of Rolls Royce, the Global Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Meetings, a former member of the International Advisory Board of the National Bank of Kuwait, and is Honorary Chairman of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s High Advisory Council.
Gérard Mestrallet is the Chairman and CEO of GDF Suez, one of the largest energy conglomerates in the world, and is on the board of Suez Environment (one of the major water privatization companies in the world), and also sits on the supervisory board of AXA, a major global French financial conglomerate. He is also an advisory board member of Siemens, and is a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists and the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum.
John S. Watson is the Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corporation. He is on the board of the American Petroleum Institute and is a member of the National Petroleum Council, the Business Roundtable, the Business Council, the American Society of Corporate Executives, and the Chancellor’s Board of Advisors of the University of California Davis. He is also a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum.
The Chairman of JPMorgan Chase International, Jacob A. Frenkel, is Chairman and CEO of the Group of Thirty, and a member of the International Council. He is also a former Vice Chairman of American International Group (from 2004 to 2009, when it was rescued with the massive government bailout); the former Chairman of Merrill Lynch International (from 2000 to 2004), and the former Governor of the Bank of Israel (from 1991 to 2000). Frenkel was an Economic Counselor and Director of Research at the International Monetary Fund (from 1987 to 1991) and prior to that he was the David Rockefeller Professor of International Economics at the University of Chicago (from 1973 to 1987). In addition, Frenkel is the former Editor of the Journal of Political Economy, former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Inter-American Development Bank, and a former member of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations. Frenkel is currently a member of the board of directors of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a member of the Trilateral Commission, member of the International Advisory Council of the China Development Bank, member of the board of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, member of the Economic Advisory panel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, member of the Council for the United States and Italy, member of the Investment Advisory Council of the Prime Minister of Turkey, and sits on the board of Loews Corporation.
To sum: it should be clear, from the evidence, that the leadership of JPMorgan Chase is not an isolated group of individuals involved in finance and exclusively relegated to the banking world, but a highly networked and influential group consisting of central figures in the global plutocracy – referred to as the "Transnational Capitalist Class" – with significant economic, social and political power. To refer to JPMorgan Chase simply as "a bank" is like referring to the United States as just "a country." A geopolitical force unto itself, and a conglomerate embedded within a transnational network of elite institutions and individuals, JPMorgan Chase goes beyond the financial indicators. Put simply, it is one of the most powerful banks in the world.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People's Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, the research director of Occupy.com's Global Power Project, and has a weekly podcast with BoilingFrogsPost.