Wall Street ef­forts to im­prove its im­age fail to sway Amer­i­cans

Muscat Daily - - BUSINESS -

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.

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