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JPMorgan Chase chief: Nation could power through economic crisis

Jamie Dimon tells business leaders the way out of the recession is jobs, jobs, jobs

An optimistic Jamie Dimon told Portland business leaders Thursday afternoon that although the nation was still struggling through the worst economic crisis in seven decades, it's slowly working its way upward.

A key to keeping the weak-but-steady economic recovery moving forward? Jobs, jobs and more jobs, according to the Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest of the nation's banks.

'When I look at the economy today, what we see is that things are better than most people think,' Dimon told several hundred businesspeople during a Portland Business Alliance luncheon at the Hilton Hotel. 'Clearly we all want a better, faster recovery. What will really drive this recovery is jobs. We need jobs.'

Dimon visited Portland on a West Coast trip to talk about his bank and the national economy. In Seattle Wednesday evening, protesters from the Occupy movement greeted Dimon's speech and blocked doors to the hotel where he was giving a dinner speech.

Portland's speech at the Hilton attracted a crowd of protesters standing on the Southwest Broadway sidewalk in front the hotel with signs decrying bank bailouts and income inequality. Several people attending the business alliance luncheon had to walk through a gauntlet of protesters.

Inside the hotel, more than a dozen uniformed police officers and hotel security were scattered across the lobby and near escalators that led to the basement ballroom.

A few blocks away, the police bureau's rapid response team stood ready during and after the luncheon.

Generic anger

In a 41-minute speech to the business group, Dimon said he agreed with some of the Occupy Wall Street frustrations, but thought the group was not focusing blame on the right institutions or people.

'A lot of frustration and anger at this point I completely understand,' Dimon said. 'That generic anger is fair, because something went wrong.'

Not every bank is bad, he said, even though protesters have focused anger and attention on the banking industry as a primary culprit in the nation's economic downtown. The 'blame them all' approach is too indiscriminate, Dimon said. Protesters should 'blame the people who caused this trouble,' he said.

'I'm pissed off that a lot of people walked away from companies they destroyed and then made a lot of money,' Dimon said. 'I think we should fix that.'

The solution, he said, could be to get rid of the idea that some companies are too big to fail. 'I'm against bailouts,' said Dimon, whose bank took $25 billion from the Federal Reserve as part of a broad program to promote stability in the banking industry (JPMorgan Chase eventually returned the $25 billion with an additional $1.74 billion to the U.S. treasury). 'I think we've got to get rid of 'too big to fail.' We should have a system where failure's not a bad thing.'

If some large companies fail, that shouldn't be a bad thing, he said. It might lead to improvements and changes that strengthen the nation's economy.

'Destructive capitalism is a good thing,' Dimon said. 'You build a better economy and a better system that way.'

Fallout from European crisis

Dimon said the looming European debt crisis could hit the nation's struggling economy just as it its trying to work its way out of a deep recession. The crisis brought on by government debt and financial instability in Greece, Italy and Spain is a 'serious problem' that could hurt Main Street USA businesses.

A recession in Europe, or the collapse of the Euro, could have more of a 'psychological effect' on the United States, he said, because the nation doesn't export as much to Europe as it does other markets.

'It's not going to sink the American economy, but it could reduce and depress sales,' Dimon said. 'There will be some fallout here. It will add to the distress in the marketplace, so it's not a good thing.'

But, returning to optimism, Dimon told business leaders that he expected the nation's economy to 'continue to grow in spite of things like that.'

'I hope we're strong enough to power through all that,' Dimon said.

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