JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon has received scathing criticism in recent months from progressive firebrands Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In a new interview, he fired back, acknowledging the current appeal of their economic populism but dismissing it as misguided.
“Just because it resonates, doesn’t make it right,” Dimon says, when asked about criticism put forward by Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The comments came just before Warren on Friday sent a letter to Dimon raising concerns about the reinstatement of the company’s forced arbitration policy for credit card holders, which disallows customers from holding the bank accountable in court for potential wrongdoing.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill in April, Ocasio-Cortez sat alongside lawmakers who targeted the tens of millions in compensation received by top bank executives, including Dimon, who received $31 million in compensation last year. The ratio between CEO pay and entry-level wages at JPMorgan Chase stands at 381:1, ranking it second highest among the large banks, after Citigroup.
But juxtaposition of CEO and entry-level pay is “comparing apples and oranges,” Dimon tells Yahoo Finance Editor-in-chief Andy Serwer, calling the calculation “a complete waste of time.”
“People don't think clearly about stuff like that,” he adds. “We treat our people well, we educate our people, we give them a huge opportunity — and that's what we should do.”
The minimum starting wage at JPMorgan Chase is $16.50 per hour, though it can start at $18 for workers in high-cost regions. Meanwhile, Bank of America announced in April that its hourly pay will rise to $17 in May and increase to $20 by 2021.
Dimon pointed to the benefits package the company offers entry-level employees, recounting how the company improved its health-care coverage when he found out some employees couldn’t afford the deductibles.
“The second we found out for our lower paid folks making under $60,000 a year, we cut the deductible to the extent that if they do the wellness programs it's effectively zero,” he says.
Dimon also pointed to the competitive pressure that compels him to pay enough to hire and retain effective workers.
“To act like somehow I can steal from them and do a good job at my company is a little bit crazy,” he says.
Dimon made the comments to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a conversation that aired on Yahoo Finance in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
According to Dimon, populist critics misrepresent the actions of wealthy people and big banks. Still, he acknowledged these critics tap into genuine discontent held by people struggling to gain access to services like quality education and health care.
“We should acknowledge the problems in society that are causing the anger,” he says.
“But those problems are we can't build infrastructure,” he adds. “Those problems are the inner-city schools are not graduating our kids. Our litigation system is capricious. Health care is huge — we should get all health care to the 40 million people who don't have it.”
Leading progressives Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have attacked Dimon in recent months.
In March, Dimon criticized the potential negative economic consequences of Green New Deal legislation proposed by Ocasio-Cortez. The next day, the freshman New York Congresswoman responded, pointing to Dimon’s participation in a $13 billion settlement over allegations that JPMorgan Chase fraudulently misrepresented the mortgages it was selling to investors ahead of the 2008 recession. She also criticized the bank’s financing of fossil fuel pipelines.
“So maybe they *aren’t* the best authority on prioritizing economic wellbeing of everyday people & the planet,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
Earlier this month, Dimon condemned socialism, saying it “means that the government owns and controls companies” for “political purposes, for jobs and votes.”
Sanders objected to the comments, saying he “didn't hear Jamie Dimon criticizing socialism when Wall Street begged for the largest federal bailout in American history — some $700 billion from the Treasury and even more from the Fed.”
In the interview with Serwer, Dimon said he and JPMorgan Chase grasp the issues facing low-level employees and have sought to improve their lives.
“We understand,” he says. “We have a heart.”
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.