Ok, well it’s time for Jamie Dimon’s annual letter and while these usually mark an improvement from Warren Buffett’s yearly missives in terms of being some semblance of useful and/or having practical applications, they are still chock-full of amorphous aphorisms and pretensions to profundity.
The problem with Jamie isn’t so much lack of effort or an utter dearth of practicable suggestions as it is that it’s not always clear he’s very smart. I mean clearly he’s a genius in some respects, but pontificating on the problems that face humanity in a rapidly evolving world isn’t really his strong suit. And indeed, there are times when he says things that make you wonder how he’s managed to get as far as he has. Take this bit from the latest letter for instance:
And I tell my conservative friends to read writers like Tom Friedman.
Politics has nothing to do with this, Jamie – friends don’t let friends to read Tom Friedman. Period.
Anyway, Jamie has some thoughts on what America’s problems are and here are some selections (mostly at random) from the section on public policy:
- Labor force participation – particularly among men aged 25-54 – dropped dramatically. An estimated 2 million Americans are currently addicted to opioids (in 2016, a staggering 42,000 Americans died because of opioid overdoses), and some studies show this is one of the major reasons why men aged 25-54 are permanently out of work. Even worse, 70% of today’s youth (ages 17-24) are not eligible for military service, essentially due to a lack of proper education (basic reading and writing skills) or health issues (often obesity or diabetes).
- Our schools are leaving too many behind. In some inner city schools, fewer than 60% of students graduate, and of those who do, a significant number are not prepared for employment. Additionally, many of our high schools, vocational schools and community colleges do not properly prepare today’s younger generation for the available professional-level jobs, many of which pay a multiple of the minimum wage.
- Infrastructure is a disaster. It took eight years to get a man to the moon (from idea inception to completion), yet it now can sometimes take a decade to simply get the permits to build a bridge or a new solar field. The country that used to have the best infrastructure on the planet by most measures is now not even ranked among the top 20 developed nations according to the Basic Requirement Index.
- Our immigration policies fail us in numerous ways. Forty percent of foreign students who receive advanced degrees in science, technology and math (300,000 students annually) have no legal way of staying here, although many would choose to do so. Most students from countries outside the United States pay full freight to attend our universities but many are forced to take the training back home. From my vantage point, that means one of our largest exports is brainpower.
- Our nation’s healthcare costs are twice the amount per person compared with most developed nations.
He goes on to lament the lack of upward mobility in the job market, noting that “during the mid-1990s, only one in five minimum-wage workers was still at minimum wage a year later [while] today, that number is nearly one in three.” He segues from that into bemoaning the idea that some young folk “seem to be pessimistic [about] capitalism.”
Clearly the solution for that is more capitalism. Obviously.
Jamie also has some ideas on how to improve the quality of public discourse, including the notion that we shouldn’t use the term “slippery slope.”
Anyway, you can peruse the full letter below. I mean, look, it’s an admirable effort (I guess), but don’t let it be lost on you that at the end of the day, this is Jamie Dimon. A man who once told an analyst “that’s why I’m richer than you” for asking a question about capital ratios.