JP Morgan Chase reported a $2 billion loss, a sign that the financial sector's reckless gambling habit has in no way abated since the crash of 2008, the attempted reforms of 2010 and the Occupy backlash of 2011.
Despite the world watching, modern-day Cassandras offer unheeded warnings, critics seeking greater oversight, big banks still behave badly. They are still foreclosing on homeowners and resisting write-downs, still raising banking fees, still lobbying against reforms. And one can bet they are on track for big bonuses.
The sad part: We're not really surprised.
The numbers are large, but not astonishing - what's two billion anyhow? We expect them to keep careening into excesses and pushing our system into greater risk, and we expect most politicians to absolve them or be ineffective at deterring and regulating them. They are big corporations after all…this is what they do.
There's some truth to that. Like in the story of the scorpion and the frog, the banks shrug and say, "It's my nature." Despite Mitt Romney's claim that "Corporations are people, my friend," we know they aren't. So we shouldn't expect them to act like people: with compassion, communitarian spirit, restraint, morality and an eye toward the future. It's not their nature.
If we can't expect corporations to act in line with the better angels of human nature, than humans need to take control again. On a federal level, it's why we need laws that restore Glass-Steagall, set real restraints and empower oversight agencies with real muscle. If you need what that looks like drawn out for you, let former Secretary Robert Reich have a go with the marker:
But if you feel like we tried that road with Dodd-Frank, and only saw that the lobbyist-laden Capitol culture reduced real reform, there are other ways for human to take action.
There is the opportunity for local legislation. Right now, in New York City, the Council is considering measures that would require the city to consider banks' broader social and community profile in determining with whom to do business. Local elected officials can hold banks accountable when our federal officials choose not to.
Then there are the shareholders, who can curb their corporations' excesses, as they did in voting down the proposed pay package for Citigroup executives. While that was a non-binding vote, it was a step in the right direction of people exerting power on behalf of principles that "corporations" overlook.
Then there are all of us. Move Your Money campaigns have helped many Americans - and their businesses, unions and municipalities - get their money out of the bad actors, and invested instead in the principled players. It gives value to a company that lives by values - and is the kind of incentive that a bank may heed.
We want JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and his crew to be held accountable, we want the argument for stricter reforms to be made, we want the outrage to fuel policies that rein in executive pay, contain risk and lead to a more stable and more just economy.
However, in the sad reality, we know banks will be banks. Corporations aren't people. But real people can make a better choice…and can lead to better corporations.