Too Big to Care

Recently I donated $20 to to help fund a first grade class with basic school supplies. This is what the teacher, Mrs. Hopkins, said about her class and what inspired me to make the small contribution:

"My students are wonderful boys and girls who are eager to learn especially when they don't know the game they are playing is educational. Our school is a Title 1 school which means our students are economically disadvantaged. Many of them do not have books at home and do not come to school with their own supplies. Most of my students live in apartments with one parent. They struggle with reading and writing. Most of them do not enjoy paper and pencil assignments because they do not feel successful. They are afraid they might get something wrong."

Mrs. Hopkins is my sister. If anyone knows a public school teacher, they know how much they work, the daily stress, and the little pay. Last year, on an overseas return flight, I saw a glimpse into the public school system and some of its challenges in the documentary, Waiting for Superman. I had loads of time to kill so I followed that movie with another inflight movie, Inside Job, a documentary on the 2008 financial meltdown. If anyone has five hours to spare, it is well worth the time to watch these two documentaries back-to-back. After de-boarding the flight, I couldn't help think if there wasn't some connection between the financial challenges and failures of our public school system and the large loss of money in the financial meltdown.

With J.P. Morgan's recent $2 billion dollar trading loss announced last week, I finally figured out the connection: No one is learning.

J.P. Morgan's Chief Executive Officer, Jamie Dimon, and his Chief Investment Office apparently aren't afraid that they "might get something wrong." Two billion dollars is a lot of money, but to Jamie Dimon, it's really not; he operates with a trillion-dollar balance sheet.

"We will fix it and move on," he declared.

Most certainly he will. His reputation as a leader among his banking peers in the fight against limiting risk taking by commercial banks with governmental guarantees, or the Volcker rule, is at stake, not to mention he and his bank friends' personal profit. Forty to 50 percent of every dollar of revenue generated in megabanks go, not to the shareholders, but to the bank employees who work there. Mr. Dimon and his colleagues will certainly be working in their self-interest to recoup the losses.

But where does that leave the majority of people who have lived with 2008's financial fallout? Has any had their pay increased 15 percent as did U.S. executive pay this past year? School budgets have been cut and teachers have lost jobs. Increasingly more children don't have the resources for a proper education. No one wants to repeat another bailout, and politically speaking, it's hard to imagine one getting passed again within the next fifty years. But when financial leaders allow huge bets to be placed on unnatural, or synthetic securities, they simply haven't learned the lessons of the past crisis. They, and the authorities who regulate them, are not connected with the rest of the citizenry who have lost jobs, houses, and benefits to name a few. They are simply too big to care.