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Tomgram: Nomi Prins, How to Set the Economy on Fire

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

There's no way to measure just how cheery this period really is -- not if you're the CEO of a major company. Just as the World Economic Summit was opening in Davos, Switzerland, and President Donald Trump was flying in to put his mark on the moment, PwS, a global consulting firm, released its annual survey of 1,300 CEOs. "The report," wrote the Washington Post's Tory Newmyer, "found CEO optimism at a record high -- with 57% predicting growth would accelerate worldwide this year -- after lodging its biggest single-year leap, up from just 29% who predicted as much last year." In the wake of the passage of staggering tax cuts for corporations and the truly wealthy, the most ebullient among them were, of course, North American CEOs!

And that wasn't even the best news, not if you lived in a penthouse somewhere on this planet anyway. As Davos began, Oxfam issued "Reward Work, Not Wealth," its new report indicating that "82% of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth." Oh, and here's a footnote of further cheer from Oxfam: "It takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime. In the U.S., it takes slightly over one working day for a CEO to earn what an ordinary worker makes in a year."

In that context, Donald Trump gave an America First, exceptionalist pep talk at Davos filled with expectable falsehoods, lies, and exaggerations to a crowd -- "some of the remarkable citizens from all over the world," as he put it -- primed to applaud (though there were a few hisses and boos and the rare protest, too). "There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest, and to grow in the United States," the American president insisted.

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"America is open for business, and we are competitive once again... I will always put America first... but America first does not mean America alone. When the United States grows, so does the world... America is roaring back, and now is the time to invest in the future of America. We have dramatically cut taxes to make America competitive. We are eliminating burdensome regulations at a record pace. We are reforming the bureaucracy to make it lean, responsive, and accountable. And we are ensuring our laws are enforced fairly."

Yes, indeed, it could all hardly be fairer -- if you happen to be a CEO or a billionaire. There's only one possible small hitch in the general global exuberance and, maybe because it's so minor, few in a media world obsessed 24/7 with the president and his team have even bothered to bring it up. That's why we need TomDispatch regular Nomi Prins, author of All the Presidents' Bankers, right now. Who else even thinks to point out that the millionaire and billionaire deregulators extraordinaire of the Trump administration might be taking a "brand-new America" (as the president called it) down a rather old path leading to... well, not to put too fine a point on it, economic meltdown. But let Prins, whose must-read new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, is slated to appear in May, fill you in herself. Tom

Trump's Financial Arsonists
The Next Financial Crisis -- Not If, But When
By Nomi Prins

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There's been lots of fire and fury around Washington lately, including a brief government shutdown. In Donald Trump's White House, you can hardly keep up with the ongoing brouhahas from North Korea to Robert Mueller's Russian investigation, while it already feels like ages since the celebratory mood over the vast corporate tax cuts Congress passed last year. But don't be fooled: none of that is as important as what's missing from the picture. Like a disease, in the nation's capital it's often what you can't see that will, in the end, hurt you most.

Amid a roaring stock market and a planet of upbeat CEOs, few are even thinking about the havoc that a multi-trillion-dollar financial system gone rogue could inflict upon global stability. But watch out. Even in the seemingly best of times, neglecting Wall Street is a dangerous idea. With a rag-tag Trumpian crew of ex-bankers and Goldman Sachs alumni as the only watchdogs in town, it's time to focus, because one thing is clear: Donald Trump's economic team is in the process of making the financial system combustible again.

Collectively, the biggest U.S. banks already have their get-out-out-of-jail-free cards and are now sitting on record profits after, not so long ago, triggering sweeping unemployment, wrecking countless lives, and elevating global instability. (Not a single major bank CEO was given jail time for such acts.) Still, let's not blame the dangers lurking at the heart of the financial system solely on the Trump doctrine of leaving banks alone. They should be shared by the Democrats who, under President Barack Obama, believed, and still believe, in the perfection of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

While Dodd-Frank created important financial safeguards like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even stronger long-term banking reforms were left on the sidelines. Crucially, that law didn't force banks to separate the deposits of everyday Americans from Wall Street's complex derivatives transactions. In other words, it didn't resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (axed in the Clinton era).

Wall Street is now thoroughly emboldened as the financial elite follows the mantra of Kelly Clarkston's hit song: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Since the crisis of 2007-2008, the Big Six U.S. banks -- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley -- have seen the share price of their stocks significantly outpace those of the S&P 500 index as a whole.

Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest bank (that's paid $13 billion in settlements for various fraudulent acts), recently even pooh-poohed the chances of the Democratic Party in 2020, suggesting that it was about time its leaders let banks do whatever they wanted. As he told Maria Bartiromo, host of Fox Business's Wall Street Week, "The thing about the Democrats is they will not have a chance, in my opinion. They don't have a strong centrist, pro-business, pro-free enterprise person."

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This is a man who was basically gifted two banks, Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, by the U.S government during the financial crisis. That present came as his own company got cheap loans from the Federal Reserve, while clamoring for billions in bailout money that he swore it didn't need.

Dimon can afford to be brazen. JPMorgan Chase is now the second most profitable company in the country. Why should he be worried about what might happen in another crisis, given that the Trump administration is in charge? With pro-business and pro-bailout thinking reigning supreme, what could go wrong?

Protect or Destroy?

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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