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Jamie Dimon says income inequality is a 'huge problem' but don't 'vilify people'

Max Zahn

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told “60 Minutes” on Sunday that income inequality is a “huge problem” but evaded a question about his $31 million salary and warned that his high-profile critics “shouldn’t vilify people who worked hard.”

“The notion that I'm not a patriot or that some of these other folks aren't, that's just dead wrong,” he said, in response to a question from host Lesley Stahl about criticism leveled by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“I think you should vilify Nazis, but you shouldn't vilify people who worked hard to accomplish things,” added Dimon, whose net worth is $1.6 billion.

Asked about his 2018 salary in the tens of millions, Dimon says, “The board sets mine. I have nothing to do with it.”

Jamie Dimon, chairman & CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co., speaks during the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Jamie Dimon, chairman & CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co., speaks during the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

‘More widely shared prosperity’

An ongoing, public dispute about wealth inequality between Warren, a presidential candidate, and a number of billionaires has thrust Dimon’s comments into the center of a roiling political debate.

Last Wednesday, Bill Gates told The New York Times that he’d be willing to pay more in taxes but joked he would get wary if asked to pay $100 billion and questioned how “open-minded” Warren is. After a cordial Twitter exchange between Gates and Warren, she released an online calculator that shows how much billionaires would pay in taxes under her plan.

In 2015, Dimon acknowledged the significance of wealth inequality but questioned whether the quality of life for everyday Americans had declined because of it.

“It’s not right to say we’re worse off,” Dimon said, according to Bloomberg. “If you go back 20 years ago, cars were worse, health was worse, you didn’t live as long, the air was worse. People didn’t have iPhones.”

Dimon wrote an op-ed in The New York Times the following year that heralded the bank’s pay and investment initiatives as efforts to “advance economic opportunity and create more widely shared prosperity.”

‘Just because it resonates, doesn’t make it right’

In June, Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer asked Dimon about the economic message of progressive candidates like Warren, Ocasio-Cortez, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

“Just because it resonates, doesn’t make it right,” Dimon said.

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. 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.

As in the interview with “60 Minutes,” Dimon did not acknowledge any merit in the criticism of his compensation.

Juxtaposition of CEO and entry-level pay is “comparing apples and oranges,” Dimon said, calling the calculation “a complete waste of time.”

“People don't think clearly about stuff like that,” he added. “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.

On Sunday, Dimon acknowledged to “60 Minutes” that JPMorgan Chase played a role in the housing crisis that led to the Great Recession, after Stahl asked whether the bank sold “toxic mortgages.” But he said many other institutions were to blame, including mortgage brokers and government bodies.

“If you're the average American, you would be angry at what happened,” Dimon says. “There was no Old Testament justice. Too many people — a lot of people — lost their reputation and money, but too many people didn't and you know, the small guy got hurt.”

Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.

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