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Hack WatchNewsletter | January 6, 2023

Why Are We Reading Jamie Dimon's Eighth-Grade Social Studies Essay?

Media Accountability

This article first appeared in our weekly Hack Watch newsletter on media accountability. Subscribe here to get it delivered straight to your inbox every week, and check out our Hack Watch website.

Jamie Dimon is not a foreign policy expert. He has never studied international relations. He has never worked in diplomacy. He runs the multinational banking firm JPMorgan Chase, but as the CEO, he presumably doesn’t personally analyze international commerce or get deep into the weeds on policy minutiae with foreign dignitaries. Even if he did, global banking rules are just one small part of foreign policy. They’re not the same thing as writing treaties, managing alliances, or projecting a clear philosophy of when military intervention is or isn’t justified. 

Dimon knows about as much as the average news consumer about this immensely complex field. And that’s fine, no one is an expert in everything. But Dimon is also incredibly rich, has an appetite for the spotlight, and knows that Important People have Opinions about foreign policy. Hence, the public simply must know Dimon’s general vibes about international relations, which the most elite financial newspaper in the United States happily informed us of this week.

The West Needs America’s Leadership,” an op-ed written by Dimon and published by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, reads like an eighth grade social studies essay written the night before it was due. Dimon spends two pages rattling off platitudes with only the vaguest hint of an actual policy agenda. The closest thing to a thesis statement is the following: “U.S. leaders must always put America first, but global peace and order is a vital American interest. Only America has the full capability to lead and coalesce the Western world, though we must do so respectfully and in partnership with our allies.” Please reread these two sentences a few times, and then ask yourself what Dimon is proposing anyone actually do. I still don’t know!

A good way to judge how informed someone is on a field they’re opining on is the proper nouns they use. Here are all of the proper nouns in Dimon’s essay on contemporary U.S. foreign policy: Russia, Ukraine, America, West, democracy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Stalin, Hitler, Marshall Plan, CO2, Ronald Reagan, gross domestic product, minimum wage, earned-income tax credit, China, Iran.

These proper nouns tell us that Dimon knows which countries are in the most newspaper headlines these days, that he has a basic knowledge of World War II history, and that he knows a couple things about economic policy (which one would expect of a bank CEO.) None of this makes his opinions on international relations more informed or relevant than those of a bodega news vendor, or a waitress, or a bus driver. But no one with those jobs gets placed in the Journal, now do they?

The essay’s actual arguments are similarly banal. Dimon argues that we should “rededicate ourselves to the qualities and principles that made America great,” including “a Marshall Plan for global energy and food security,” and spending “as much as necessary to protect the world” on the military. He thinks we should “deal with China thoughtfully and without fear” while “dramatically reducing illegal immigration and dramatically increasing legal immigration.” 

In summary: Dimon thinks that good things are good and bad things are bad. Ergo, he argues that America should do more good things and do fewer bad things. Insightful!

To be clear, just because Jamie Dimon is under-informed about foreign policy doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s wrong about it. In fact, to the extent that his essay says anything, I agree with a lot more of it than I do when reading many of the more credentialed foreign-policy experts that tend to show up in the Journal opinion page.

My question is why any part of this exercise was necessary. Why does everyone need to know that Dimon has extremely normal opinions about global politics, and why did the Journal indulge him with this column space? 

It’s a feature of mainstream American journalism that a rich businessperson’s opinions on any topic are considered inherently newsworthy, by virtue of the simple fact that they are a rich businessperson. The media indulges the ultra-wealthy with exclusive interviews, puff-piece features, TV spots whenever they feel like calling in (Donald Trump’s exploitation of that one helped set the stage for his presidential run), and of course, free column space.

To some extent, this is a symptom of the broader shriveling of the media. Like it or not, rich people sometimes get clicks…and sometimes buy advertising space or underwrite reporting projects. In the business press and trade outlets, there’s also an argument that the way industry power players think is newsworthy to others in their industry. But that’s only really true of topics directly relevant to the businessperson’s company and the industry itself, not something as broad as what geopolitical strategies the United States should pursue across all of Europe and Asia, as Dimon attempts to do.

Sure, any number of global political events can affect a global financial firm like JPMorgan Chase. But Dimon is only really uniquely qualified to discuss how any given geopolitical event affects his firm’s investments, not what an ethical and just American policy response should be, or how our current policy compares across history in the relevant domain.

In aggregate, when the media fawns over businesspeople’s every fleeting thought on any given topic, it reinforces a common delusion among the rich: that they are inherently brilliant and interesting by virtue of the simple fact that they are rich.

Dimon’s piece shows only a basic understanding of a suite of complex issues, yet it was deemed significant enough to be published in a prestigious outlet. It would only be natural for Dimon to infer that this means his piece must have said something really insightful. Considering how little research or thought evidently went into it, it would make sense for him to further infer that all of his first impressions and off-the-cuff impulses must contain some deep brilliance. He might come to think of himself as a deeply special person. He’s not; he’s just a rich CEO.

Dynamics like this — doors unduly opening, no one ever telling someone to their face how foolish they are — are how the elite of this country can end up so frustratingly self-deluded. Journalists breathlessly cover CEOs like Dimon, Howard Schultz, and Jeff Bezos when they “boldly” proclaim that America has become too divided, and we all might be happier if we could compromise and come together…as if that’s not the single most widely-held political opinion in the country. This often goes hand-in-hand with the CEO “bravely” declaring that he (almost always a he) is — gasp! — socially liberal but fiscally conservative. That is the single most overrepresented viewpoint in our politics and media, yet it’s always presented as some shock to the public’s sensibilities, challenging them to think about the world in a new way.

Meanwhile, the perspectives of everyone else — the bodega owner, the waitress, the bus driver — are never really heard. This reinforces the corollary of the notion that rich people’s opinions are important by virtue of that they’re rich: working people’s opinions don’t matter by virtue of that they’re workers. This runs directly counter to the democratic virtues newspapers claim to support. It also can lead to a certain huffiness if the wealthy suddenly aren’t given the attention they believe to be their right (see: Musk, Elon.)

The first duty of a news outlet is to inform the public. No matter a speaker’s wealth bracket, shallow and uninformed analysis supporting utterly banal opinions does not serve this role. But it is also simply for the rich’s own good that editors tell them “no” when they truly do not have anything worthwhile to say. These people are spoiled rotten, and we need a news media that stops indulging them.

Media Accountability

More articles by Max Moran

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