Jamie Dimon may have turned down an official job in Donald Trump’s administration, but he is still offering a lot of advice to the President.
Though Dimon’s annual letter to shareholders never mentions Trump by name, the CEO of J.P. Morgan (JPM) may as well have addressed it to him directly. The 45-page letter, released Tuesday, reads like a manual for how best to grow the economy, instructing politicians on how they should go about dismantling financial regulations such as Dodd-Frank, enacting tax reform, creating jobs and solving income inequality.
It’s exactly the kind of policy platform that befits a candidate for Treasury Secretary. Trump considered Dimon for that position, despite the fact that the bank CEO has previously supported Democrats as well as Republicans.
And it’s clear that the head of J.P. Morgan agrees with President Trump on many things, including the need to cut corporate taxes, roll back “unnecessary” regulations and help low-income Americans by expanding the earned income tax credit. Like Trump, Dimon also dismisses the consensus view that the U.S. is permanently stuck with ho-hum GDP growth of 2% or less annually. “Many economists believe we are now permanently relegated to slower growth and lower productivity (they say that secular stagnation is the new normal),” Dimon wrote in the letter. “But I strongly disagree.”
Still, Dimon also took aim at several of Trump’s policies and promises, warning of the dangers of scrapping longstanding trade agreements and of cracking down on immigration, although he did so without explicitly criticizing the President. Below, five issues on which Dimon’s shareholder letter takes issue with Trump:
As a company that does business around the world, J.P. Morgan has always had to deal with global geopolitical issues, so it’s all the more telling that Dimon cited the “heightened state” of “anti-globalization sentiment,” including “anti-immigration positions,” as one of the top two risks currently facing the bank, right up there with Brexit. And though he tried to avoid diving too deep into the subject (writing in parentheses, “I’m not going to write about immigration in this letter—we have always supported proper immigration—it is a vital part of the strength of America”), Dimon eventually returned to the issue with a biting critique of Trump’s pledges and executive orders intended to limit immigration.
Listing “problems” standing in the way of U.S. economic growth, Dimon cited American immigration policies that often prevent foreign college students from getting a job in this country after they graduate. (Trump’s recent executive orders targeting immigration largely from Muslim-majority countries were met with uproar on many U.S. college campuses, where international students feared they would be barred from completing their education here, let alone staying afterwards.) “It is alarming that approximately 40% (this is an astounding 300,000 students each year) of those who receive advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math at American universities are foreign nationals with no legal way of staying here even when many would choose to do so,” Dimon wrote. “We are forcing great talent overseas by not allowing these young people to build their dreams here.”
2. Mexico and NAFTA
Besides anti-immigration sentiment, Dimon is also worried about the risk “de-globalization” poses to J.P. Morgan in the form of “poorly conceived anti-trade policies” with Mexico and China, two countries where Trump has made it clear he is not happy with the status quo. In the case of Mexico, Trump has simultaneously gone after trade and immigration, promising to not only build a wall at the southern border of the U.S. but also to scrap and renegotiate NAFTA, the agreement governing trade between the countries.
In his letter, Dimon defended Mexico as well as NAFTA and even refuted some of the President’s arguments regarding illegal immigration into the U.S. “Mexico is a long-standing peaceful neighbor, and it is wholly in our country’s interest that Mexico be a prosperous nation,” Dimon wrote, noting that J.P. Morgan has business in Mexico worth $400 million in sales. “Our trade agreement with Mexico helps ensure that the young democracy in Mexico is not hijacked by populist and anti-American leaders (like Chavez did in Venezuela),” Dimon continued, calling NAFTA “simpler” than the U.S.’s agreement with China. “While there are some clear, identifiable problems with NAFTA, I believe they will be worked out in a way that is fair and beneficial for both sides. The logic to do so is completely compelling.”
One reason Dimon gave to make sure Mexico’s economy is healthy: “This actually reduces immigration issues (there are now more Mexicans going back to Mexico than coming into the United States).” The statistic Dimon refers to is frequently cited by critics of Trump’s proposed border wall and trade policy with Mexico.
With China increasingly concerned about a Trump-inspired trade war with the U.S., Dimon also made a plea to keep that from happening. Though he acknowledged that the U.S. “has some serious trade issues with China, which have grown over the years,” including not just tariffs but also alleged Chinese cybersecurity breaches and intellectual property violations of American companies, the CEO said those problems do not necessitate a trade war. “There is no inevitable or compelling reason that China and America have to clash—in fact, improving political and economic relationships can be good for both parties,” Dimon wrote in the shareholder letter. “So while the issues here are not easy, I am hopeful they can be resolved in a way that is fair and constructive for the two countries.”
4. The Environment and Climate Change
Dimon’s condemnation of Trump’s environmental policy was so brief it was easy to miss, but the point the executive was making was unmistakable. After devoting a solid 15 pages of his letter on how the U.S. should slash regulations, Dimon made a point to single out a single area of government oversight that has undeniable value: “Some regulations quite clearly create a common good (e.g., clean air and water),” Dimon noted, in a sentence that went on to catalog the ways regulation is otherwise bad for the economy—making it all the more striking that he chose to highlight environmental issues.
Indeed, Trump’s proposed budget cuts funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31%, and specifically eliminates measures designed to preserve clean air and water and ward off climate change—including Obama-era legislation amending the longstanding Clean Air Act and creating what is literally known as the Clean Water Rule. Dimon’s choice of words, then, is all the more significant.
Trump’s budget also calls for what the President deemed a “historic” increase in military spending, amounting to an additional $52 billion allocation for the Department of Defense. Dimon, however, seems to think this money would be better spent elsewhere in pursuit of greater economic growth. In his list of obstacles to the U.S. economy, the J.P. Morgan CEO included defense spending: “Over the last 16 years, we have spent trillions of dollars on wars when we could have been investing that money productively. (I’m not saying that money didn’t need to be spent; but every dollar spent on battle is a dollar that can’t be put to use elsewhere.),” Dimon said.
If Trump is reading Dimon’s letter, he might take a page from the banker and rejigger his priorities in order to achieve his famous goal of making America great again.