Wall Street efforts to improve its image fail to sway Americans
New York, US - Bad news for financial titans like JPMorgan Chase & Co’s Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s Lloyd Blankfein: Most Americans hold unfavourable views of Wall Street banks and corporate executives, and distrust billionaires more than they admire them.
Despite efforts by Wall Street firms to regain trust since the 2008 financial crisis, fewer than a third of Americans view the industry positively - unchanged from 2009, according to the latest Bloomberg National Poll.
Dimon (61), and Blankfein (62), each chief executive officers for more than a decade, have sought to influence the public policy debate on issues including infrastructure investment, regulation, education, immigration and corporate tax reform. Both were revealed as billionaires in 2015, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Yet the poll shows that Americans are much more likely to distrust billionaires than admire them, 53 per cent to 31 per cent. And just 31 per cent look favourably on corporate executives and Wall Street.
Big banks ‘are still pushing for deregulation and they are going to get us right back to where we were with the financial crisis’, said poll participant Chad Boyd, an independent voter and information technology worker who lives in Louisville, Colorado.
Bankers, for their part, have been expressing their sympathy for Americans’ frustrations. Dimon unleashed a diatribe last week about the nation’s failure to address the drugs epidemic, economic growth and education, blaming dysfunctional politics and the media. Blankfein recently took to Twitter, calling for unity in Washington and for the US to emulate China’s infrastructure programmes.
The CEOs have sought to rehabilitate their banks’ brands in the wake of a crisis that left more than 8mn Americans out of work and cost shareholders tens of billions of dollars in fines and legal settlements. Blankfein, for example, created a business standards committee and responded to public outrage over Goldman Sachs’s compensation practices by taking US$500mn from bonuses to provide money and advice to budding entrepreneurs through the firm’s 10,000 Small Businesses programme.
But two major events last year - Britain’s vote to leave the Euro- pean Union and Donald Trump’s election - show the limits of the bankers’ sway over the public. Both Dimon and Blankfein opposed Brexit and indicated their support for Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Republicans are much more likely to admire billionaires than Democrats, 53 per cent to 17 per cent. For some poll participants, the popularity of billionaires depends on the billionaire.
“Sometimes they do stuff against the little guy” and don’t always give back to help society, said Leigh Lamon, a preschool teacher from Bothell, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. However, Lamon said she admires billionaires like Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates: “He has done a lot of good.”
Still, a distrust of billionaires didn’t stop Americans from electing one as their President, or discourage him from hiring more of them to serve the public. Pres- ident Donald Trump, the first billionaire to hold the office, has appointed two billionaires and at least a dozen millionaires with a combined net worth of about US$6bn to his Cabinet. They include Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon.
The world’s 500 richest people control US$5tn in wealth, more than the assets on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, and 161 of them are Americans. The poorest half of the world - about 3.75bn people - collectively are worth less than ten per cent of that, according to the charity Oxfam.
Even as elaborate tax structures help the world’s richest avoid taxes, the well-endowed foundations of billionaire philanthropists are directing money to the pet projects of their owners.