SALT LAKE CITY — Deep skill sets and experience from the realms of international finance and government melded Tuesday as JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and former Utah governor and ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. paired up for an online discussion of post-pandemic economic issues.
Dimon and Huntsman each feel strongly that the U.S. is about to take the first steps into an unprecedented economic boom, but both men also cautioned that long-running issues exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic can no longer be ignored.
Dimon praised the federal government's reaction to bolstering the pandemic-racked economy for being "shockingly" fast but said the conditions wrought by the public health crisis also exposed deep fissures in how the country has navigated challenges with education systems, social inequities, health care and appropriate governmental regulation.
Dimon said the last year had "isolated to me, maybe the most important thing, the inadequacy of America competently doing its job."
"We actually damaged America over the past 20 years with bad policies and I think these things just highlighted it," Dimon said. "We were not prepared for the pandemic and have not been building the systems we need."
Huntsman said it has been the "worst year imaginable" when viewed through the filter of health care challenges and social inequities and, though Americans showed a high degree of resilience, no one was prepared for the sweeping impacts of a global shutdown.
Usually I don't like to make projections or forecasts but I think we're going to see the biggest boon to the economy that we'll all ever see in our lifetimes.
–JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
"I think the last year has really exposed the vulnerabilities around our nation," Huntsman said. "And this is something that really needs to be used as a learning experience."
During the virtual forum hosted by JPMorgan Chase and World Trade Center Utah, Dimon and Huntsman both highlighted that pent-up consumer demand, bolstered by historic levels of federal stimulus investment, are set to drive a post-vaccination economic upsurge.
"Usually I don't like to make projections or forecasts but I think we're going to see the biggest boon to the economy that we'll all ever see in our lifetimes," Dimon said.
Dimon noted U.S. consumers, even before the latest round of stimulus checks, already had $2 trillion more in their collective personal accounts than before the COVID-19 outbreak and were well situated to ratchet up spending as restrictions to travel and public gatherings continue to ease.
Dimon and Huntsman also touched on the economic impacts of potential new domestic investment, like President Joe Biden's recently unveiled $2 trillion infrastructure, green energy and jobs plan. Both men underscored the need for these types of funding streams to be managed in a way that leads to elevated competitive advantages for both individuals and the nation, and not just new debt without effective outcomes.
Huntsman recalled his time as Utah governor amid the 2008 housing crisis and how the states saw billions in federal money flowing in at the time that came without any "expectation that we'd earmark (the funds) toward anything necessarily productive or, long term, important for our overall competitive advantage."
"We're in need of significant enhancement as it relates to our infrastructure, our overall mobility," Huntsman said. "But my hope would be that we reflect on this in 10 or 20 years and say, 'That was a really important moment for the U.S. We didn't give billions here and billions there that were spent on projects that didn't mean anything. We have something to show for it and we're back in the game from an infrastructure standpoint and from a competitive standpoint.'"
Dimon also sees domestic investment, with attached accountability, as a way to help address weaknesses and issues that have been exposed by COVID-19 conditions. But he is also concerned that relying too heavily on funding those efforts through raising U.S. corporate tax rates could prove to be self-sabotage.
I think the last year has really exposed the vulnerabilities around our nation. And this is something that really needs to be used as a learning experience.
–Jon Huntsman Jr.
"What FDR did with the New Deal, he brought in a lot of professionals to run it to make sure the money was spent productively," Dimon said. "Taxes are going to go up. What I've argued about corporate taxes, and this is an important point, is we should be competitive internationally.
"You don't want American companies at the margin of sending capital overseas. You stay at 21% (the current U.S. corporate tax rate) that's just the middle of the pack. If they go up a little bit it's not a disaster, but the higher they go up the more it means that capital could be reinvested overseas."
World Trade Center Utah President and CEO Miles Hansen underscored the importance of Dimon and Huntsman's central message — that American businesses should have great confidence moving into the post-pandemic economy. Hansen said his organization has been busier than ever over the past several months helping Utah companies grow internationally and attributes the growth energy to the strength of Utah's economy and the competitiveness of Utah businesses. Hansen said as companies from other states and countries "remain in their foxholes," Utah businesses are taking advantage of opportunities to win broader swaths of their respective markets.
By leaning all the way into this generational opportunity, Hansen said, Utah is poised to further solidify its positions as not just the crossroads of the West, but the crossroads of the world.
"The message we heard today is one of confidence and optimism about the opportunities that Utah companies have to excel in the post-pandemic economy," Hansen said. "Our nation and our state's best days are ahead of us, if — as Jamie put it — we get it right.
"To get it right, Utah companies need to understand the long-term changes that are happening in the global economy and to recalibrate their strategies accordingly. As they do that, they will prosper and create opportunity for families and individuals across the state."