The year 2011 has certainly started out interesting, with longstanding, repressive governments toppled in Tunisia and Egypt and calls for freedom from tyranny spreading across the Arab world. The courage and fortitude of those ordinary people is amazing and their success an inspiration to everyone in the world who is fights for what is right.
I can’t help but wonder what’s going through the minds of this country’s big bank execs when they watch the news from Libya, Egypt and other countries whose citizens are standing up against their repressive rulers. Do they gleefully see dollar signs, imagining new markets opening for U.S. goods and financial services? Or do they, perhaps, feel a little chill of foreboding?
You see, these men (yes, the heads of the big four are all male) have been living in the imaginary world of “too big to fail,” a mythical place where no matter what they do to their customers, they get to keep raking in billions for their corporations and putting millions in their own pockets. Aided and abetted by our political leaders, judiciary, law enforcement and regulatory agencies, they’ve been insulated in this bubble long enough that I think they’ve come to believe that both they personally and the institutions they manage are untouchable, beyond the reach of inconvenient ethical and moral concerns or even of the rule of law.
“Might is Right” might be their collective motto (along with “Mine, mine … all mine!”).
Too bad saying so doesn’t make it so, boys – as some men who have wielded far greater power for much longer have been finding out in recent weeks. Egypt’s President Mubarak had been in power since 1981and Tunisia’s President Ben Ali since 1987. They’re history now. The embattled Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has held his post for 32 years. And Libya’s Gadhafi, who as of this writing is presumed to have fled his country as his military and tribal allies desert him in the wake of public outcry, has ruled for more than 40 years.
Compared to those heavy-hitters, let’s consider the leaders of the big four U.S. banks:
- Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan has only been at the helm since the end of 2009.
- Citibank’s Indian-born leader Vikram Pandit took over that company in 2007.
- Wells Fargo’s top executive, John Stumpf, was named president/CEO in August 2005.
- Chase’s Jamie Dimon, the longest-serving top executive in the group, has been in his post only since mid-2004.
Too rich, too ruthless, too corrupt, too well-supported by the U.S. goverment to be shown the door, gracefully or otherwise? I don’t think so. These are the guys who have decided it’s okay to fake foreclosure documents to steal people’s homes, jack up credit-card interest and service fees for no reason and generally treat us, the customers, like they own us. But we don’t have to take it.
The reality is, we the people of the United States could put the big four banks out of business by noon tomorrow. Pretty easily. With none of the risk faced by the people of Tunisia and Egypt and Libya and Yemen.
How? Just go to the nearest branch of your “too big to fail” bank tomorrow morning and close your account. Take your money to a local or regional bank or credit union. You’ll get all the same services – a free checking account, a savings account, credit cards, debit cards, auto and home loans and more – with fewer and lower fees. And, you’ll keep your money at work in your own community. What a simple way to fight for right.
And good wishes to the people of Bahrain, Yemen and Libya as they seek regime change and the people of Tunisia and Egypt as they plan new futures for their countries.