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Jamie Dimon’s Cufflinks and Why a Tighter Volcker Rule Is All We Can Hope For

So here’s me and William Cohan on yesterday’s The Alyona Show talking about that Jamie Dimon testimony yesterday. I have to admit a little shock at the focus of the coverage on the captured Congress and the relative soft pitches lobbed in Dimon’s direction. I’m wondering what people expected. This wasn’t the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Carl Levin’s committee, which gave the most brutal hearing of the financial crisis to members of Goldman Sachs’ team. This is the Banking Committee. Most of its members are effectively employees of JPMorgan Chase and the other Wall Street banks. Many of its staffers are actual former employees. Many of the lobbyists of these banks are former staffers to these Senators. This is where bank-friendly Senators go to ensure the most campaign contributions. There was a moment of time after banks blew up the world’s economy where they could be expected to get a brushback from a committee like this, but that time has passed.

That doesn’t mean that Dimon is out of trouble relative to the Fail Whale trades. To the extent that the hearing would have any impact, it was over the interpretations of the Volcker rule. Even the most optimistic reformers would tell you that we’re not getting anything beyond that until there’s another financial crisis. And on that front, as Sen. Jeff Merkley said, Dimon’s admission that a stronger Volcker rule could have stopped “what the synthetic portfolio morphed into,” – right before saying that Volcker was unworkable and impossible to implement – gives credence to the need to get the final rule, which is expected in July, closer to the true legislative intent. Dimon actually hurt himself in the hearing, if you believe that he wanted an unencumbered way to continue proprietary trading without any regulatory barriers. Merkley was pretty much the only tough questioner because, as the author of the Volcker rule, he was the only one with anything at stake.

But I don’t know what another world, beyond that one re-interpretation of the Volcker rule, was supposed to look like yesterday. Dimon told you himself he was, in the parlance of the mob, a “made man.” He told you it with his choice of cufflinks, the most subtle symbol in a Congressional hearing since Michael Corleone brought Frank Pentangeli’s brother from Italy to sit in the hearing room during the special committee on Cosa Nostra activity. Dimon was wearing Presidential cufflinks. Kevin Drum speculates on what this meant.

There are several possibilities:

Don’t fuck with me. The president has my back.
Give it up, GOP. I still support Obama no matter how much you suck up to me.
Hey Obama. See these? Don’t take them for granted.

I think it’s almost certainly the first one. Jamie Dimon has nothing to fear from the Senate Banking Committee, in the final analysis, because they’re not really in charge of anything.

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David Dayen

David Dayen