Guest post: Kabuki Theater Probably Won’t Shake Up NY Fed

by Kenneth Thomas

Kabuki Theater Probably Won’t Shake Up NY Fed

Via @MarkThoma, Simon Johnson reports that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has called (very diplomatically, of course) for JP Morgan Chase CEO to resign from his position with the New York Federal Reserve Bank in the wake of risk control failures that have already led to $3 billion in losses for the bank.. Johnson comments:

Mr. Geithner’s call is a major and perhaps unprecedented development which can go in one of two ways.

If Mr. Dimon resigns, that is a major humiliation and recognition – at the highest levels of government – that even the country’s best connected banker has overstepped his limits. This would be a major victory for democracy and a step towards reopening the debate on financial reform, including introducing more restrictions on what global megabanks can do.

Alternatively, Johnson says, if Dimon manages to stay on to the end of his term December 31, it will mean a defeat for democracy and a victory for the big banks.

Of course, there would be nothing new about this: one of the striking developments since the 2008 financial meltdown is that not a single major bank executive in the United States has gone to jail for their wrecking of the global economy. Moreover, the five largest banks in the country have seen their assets increase from $6.1 trillion in 2008 to $8.5 trillion today. By contrast, in Iceland, 200 bank officials, including the CEOs of the country’s three largest banks, are all facing criminal charges for their actions leading up to the crisis. To use Richard Fields’ terms, Iceland followed the Swedish model (make the banks take charges against profits immediately: bad for the banks, good for the economy) while the U.S. has followed the Japanese model (good for the banks, bad for the economy).

While I have no special insight into the kabuki theater of high official pronouncements, I tend to agree with Johnson’s assessment that Dimon will probably remain on the New York Fed board. I say this for no other reason than the fact that, as the NY Fed’s website points out, commercial banks who are members of the Federal Reserve System appoint 2/3 of the Board members. Three are appointed by the banks to represent themselves; Dimon is one of these. Another three are appointed by the banks ostensibly to represent the public. The banks selected the co-founder of a technology investment company, the CEO of HealthNow New York, and the CEO of Macy’s to represent “the public.” Hmm. The final three members are selected by the Fed’s Board of Governors to represent the public, but all are presidents of major institutions: Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Partnership for New York City. So, 2/3 of the Board is selected to represent the public, but I feel pretty safe in saying that all nine Board members are in the 1%.

Readers, what do you think? Will Jamie Dimon resign from the New York Fed? Take our poll and let us know.