The Chinese can't beat us, but we can beat ourselves with our selfishness, our biases, our regulations and are partisan fighting, creating inaction and ineffectual government.
Everyone who plows through Jamie Dimon's 67 page annual epistle will have different takeaways. Some will approach it narrowly: JP Morgan (JPM) has pulled away from the pack but still must face highly unregulated competition from fintechs now, and soon from Big Tech including Amazon (AMZN) , Apple (AAPL) , Facebook (FB) , Alphabet/Google (GOOGL) and now Walmart (WMT) . They have a leg-up because of digitization and a lack of oversight that JP Morgan has to struggle with every day. Others will note that Jamie sounds very political, as if he were some failed candidate. I don't care for that interpretation because it minimizes his greatest point, which is a fundamental belief in the country from its resources, its mosaic of people and the legacy, still observed, somewhat of the Founding Fathers as found in the Federalist Papers.
Me, I look at it as a gauntlet, a challenge to end the selfishness of Washington and business, with so many examples of it including multiple tax breaks for carried interest - a huge break for many of his own clients, as well as for race cars, private jets, horse racing and golf courses. That's what you get, he says, when you have 17,000 lobbyists in Washington.
Businesses have tremendous short-sightedness he believes, with the worst being an unwilling to commit to black and Latino neighborhoods, something that could help end institutional racism that holds a huge percentage of our people back from even the remote hope for enough to put dinner on the table. So why not set a minimum wage of $16.50, something that we often hear from Republican economists would stifle small business creation. Dimon clearly disagrees with that notion. If we approach charity and government programs with outcomes, not dollar amounts, the accountability would raise the standard of those who are handicapped by race and poverty. Dimon mentions the horrific "murder" of George Floyd twice to emphasize the two Americas.
For me, as a business person and an American I find his comments about China the most compelling after his salvo about racial equality. "China's leaders believe that America is in decline," he writes. "they believe this not only because of our country's sheers will make them the largest economy on the planet by 2030 but also because they believe their long-term thinking and competent consistent leadership have outshone America's in so many consistent ways." They think that we are losing ground in technology, infrastructure and education, "a nation torn and crippled by politics as well as racial and income inequality."
Dimon, says, unfortunately there is much truth in their indictment and he says we better do a better job on all of those charges or we will cede our power, something that he believes many in our country believe has already happened.
If we come together and stop the selfishness our side will stop losing ground. More important, though, he's the first leader anywhere, business or politics, who really explains that their non-inclusive, authoritarian government is, in the end, doomed to mediocrity and because of the vibrancy of our democracy we should not write us off in this incredibly important competition. However, our crumbling infrastructure, our bureaucratic laws, and our partisanship does handicap us in the need to maintain our hegemony and primacy.
I think the latter, frankly, is brilliant, because it if can spur change, we would all be better off, not just the disenfranchised minorities who desperately need our help but in a deliberate, accountable way. I think it's evident that this kind of positive thinking is endemic within the organization but needs to improve even in his own organization. Can it change anything? Yes, if everyone reads it. No, if it is ignored by both big business and our leadership.
Nevertheless it is more thoughtful than any other document I have read from either business or politics. Maybe that's what happens when you don't play for dinner, and, instead you play for your clients, your stockholders, your people, and most important in this gauntlet, your country.