Tag Archives: Ellen Brown

The Public Bank Option – Safer, Local and Half the Cost

Phil Murphy, a former banker with a double-digit lead in New Jersey’s race for governor, has made a state-owned bank a centerpiece of his platform. If he wins on November 7, the nation’s second state-owned bank in a century could follow.   

A UK study published on October 27, 2017 reported that the majority of politicians do not know where money comes from. According to City A.M. (London) :

More than three-quarters of the MPs surveyed incorrectly believed that only the government has the ability to create new money. . . .

The Bank of England has previously intervened to point out that most money in the UK begins as a bank loan. In a 2014 article the Bank pointed out that “whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money.”

The Bank of England researchers said that 97% of the UK money supply is created in this way. In the US, the figure is about 95%. City A.M. quoted Fran Boait, executive director of the advocacy group Positive Money, who observed:

“Despite their confidence in telling the public that there is ‘no magic money tree’ to pay for vital services, politicians themselves are shockingly ignorant of where money actually comes from.

“There is in fact a ‘magic money tree’, but it’s in the hands of commercial banks, such as Barclays, HSBC and RBS, who create money whenever they make loans.”

For those few politicians who are aware of the banks’ magic money tree, the axiom that the people should own the banks – or at least some of them – is a no-brainer. One of these rare politicians is Phil Murphy, who has a double-digit lead in New Jersey’s race for governor. Formerly a Wall Street banker himself, Murphy knows how banking works. That helps explain why he has boldly made a state-owned bank a centerpiece of his platform. He maintains that New Jersey’s billions in tax dollars should be kept in the state’s own bank, where it can leverage its capital to fund local infrastructure, small businesses, affordable housing, student loans, and other state needs. New Jersey voters go to the polls on November 7.

That means New Jersey could soon have the second publicly-owned depository bank in the country, following the very successful century-old Bank of North Dakota (BND). Other likely contenders among about twenty public banking initiatives now underway include Washington State, which has approved a feasibility study for a state bank; and the cities of Santa Fe in New Mexico and Los Angeles and Oakland in California, which are exploring the feasibility of their own city-owned banks.

A Bank Is Not Simply an Intermediary

An article in City Watch LA critical of the idea of a city-owned bank observed that Los Angeles formerly had a bank that failed, closing its doors in 2003 due to insolvency. The argument illustrates the confusion over what a bank is and what it can do for the local government and local communities. The Los Angeles Community Development Bank was not a bank. It was a loan fund, and it was designed to fail. It was not chartered to take deposits or to create deposits as loans, and it was only allowed to lend to businesses that had been turned down by other banks; in other words, they were bad credit risks.

With a loan fund, a dollar invested is a dollar lent, which must return to the bank before it can be lent again. By contrast, as the Bank of England acknowledged in its 2014 paper, “banks do not act simply as intermediaries, lending out deposits that savers place with them.” A chartered depository bank can turn one dollar of capital into ten dollars in bank credit, something it does simply by creating a deposit in the account of the borrower. If the bank’s books don’t balance at the end of the day, it borrows very cheaply from other banks, the Federal Home Loan Banks, or the repo market. It borrows at bankers’ rates rather than retail rates, and that is one of the many perks that a publicly-owned bank can recapture for local governments. Borrowing from banks rather than the bond market actually expands the circulating money supply, stimulating the local economy.

Compelling Precedents

Public sector banks, while rare in the US, are common in other countries; and recent studies have shown that they are actually more profitable, safer, less corrupt, and more accountable overall than private banks.

This is particularly true of the Bank of North Dakota, currently the only publicly-owned depository bank in the US. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is more profitable than Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase. The BND is risk-averse, lends conservatively, does not gamble in derivatives or put deposits at risk. It is able to lend at lower than market rates because its costs are very low.

The BND holds all of its home state’s revenues as deposits by law, acting as a sort of “mini-Fed” for North Dakota. It has seen record profits for almost 15 years. It continued to report record profits after two years of oil bust in the state, showing that it is highly profitable on its own merits because of its business model. It does not pay bonuses, fees, or commissions; has no high paid executives; does not have multiple branches; does not need to advertise; and does not have private shareholders seeking short-term profits. The profits return to the bank, which either distributes them as dividends to the state or uses them to build up its capital base in order to expand its loan portfolio.

The BND does not compete but partners with local banks, which act as the front office dealing with customers. It does make loans that community banks are unable to service, but this is not because the borrowers are bad credit risks. It is because either the loans are too big for the smaller banks to handle by themselves or the smaller banks cannot afford the regulatory burden of lending in rural communities where they get only a few loans a year.

Among other cost savings, the BND is able to make 2% loans to North Dakota communities for local infrastructure — half or less the rate paid by local governments in other states. The BND also lends to state agencies. For example, in 2016 it extended a $200,000 letter of credit to the State Water Commission at 1.75% and a $56,000 loan to the Water Commission to pay off its bond issues. Since 50% of the cost of infrastructure is financing, the state can cut infrastructure costs nearly in half by financing through its own bank, which can return the interest to the state.

If Phil Murphy wins the New Jersey governorship and succeeds in establishing a New Jersey state-owned bank, expect a wave of public banks to follow, as more and more elected officials come to understand how banking works and to see the obvious benefits of establishing their own.

 

 

Regulation Is Killing Community Banks. Public Ownership Can Revive Them.

 

Ellen Brown | Web of Debt | Oct 30, 2017

Crushing regulations are driving small banks to sell out to the megabanks, a consolidation process that appears to be intentional. Publicly owned banks can help avoid that trend and keep credit flowing in local economies.

At his confirmation hearing in January 2017, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said, “regulation is killing community banks.” If the process is not reversed, he warned, we could “end up in a world where we have four big banks in this country.” That would be bad for both jobs and the economy. “I think that we all appreciate the engine of growth is with small and medium-sized businesses,” said Mnuchin. “We’re losing the ability for small- and medium-sized banks to make good loans to small and medium-sized businesses in the community, where they understand those credit risks better than anybody else.”

The number of U.S. banks with assets under $100 million dropped from 13,000 in 1995 to under 1,900 in 2014. The regulatory burden imposed by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act exacerbated this trend, with community banks losing market share at double the rate during the four years after 2010 as in the four years before. But the number had already dropped to only 2,625 in 2010. What happened between 1995 and 2010?

Six weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, the 1,100 page Patriot Act was dropped on congressional legislators, who were required to vote on it the next day. The Patriot Act added provisions to the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act that not only expanded the federal government’s wiretapping and surveillance powers but outlawed the funding of terrorism, imposing greater scrutiny on banks and stiff criminal penalties for non-compliance. Banks must now collect and verify customer-provided information, check names of customers against lists of known or suspected terrorists, determine risk levels posed by customers, and report suspicious persons, organizations and transactions. One small banker complained that banks have been turned into spies secretly reporting to the federal government. If they fail to comply, they can face stiff enforcement actions, whether or not actual money-laundering crimes are alleged.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 2010, one small New Jersey bank pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Bank Secrecy Act and was fined $5 million for failure to file suspicious-activity and cash-transaction reports. The bank was acquired a few months later by another bank. Another small New Jersey bank was ordered to shut down a large international wire transfer business because of deficiencies in monitoring for suspicious transactions. It closed its doors after it was hit with $8 million in fines over its inadequate monitoring policies.

Complying with the new rules demands a level of technical expertise not available to ordinary mortals, requiring the hiring of yet more specialized staff and buying more anti-laundering software. Small banks cannot afford the risk of massive fines or the added staff needed to avoid them, and that burden is getting worse. In February 2017, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network proposed a new rule that would add a new category requiring the flagging of suspicious “cyberevents.” According to an April 2017 article in American Banker:

[T]he “cyberevent” category requires institutions to detect and report all varieties of digital mischief, whether directed at a customer’s account or at the bank itself. …

Under a worst-case scenario, a bank’s failure to detect a suspicious [email] attachment or a phishing attack could theoretically result in criminal prosecution, massive fines and additional oversight.

One large bank estimated that the proposed change with the new cyberevent reporting requirement would cost it an additional $9.6 million every year.

Besides the cost of hiring an army of compliance officers to deal with a thousand pages of regulations, banks have been hit with increased capital requirements imposed by the Financial Stability Board under Basel III, eliminating the smaller banks’ profit margins. They have little recourse but to sell to the larger banks, which have large compliance departments and can skirt the capital requirements by parking assets in off-balance-sheet vehicles.

In a September 2014 article titled “The FDIC’s New Capital Rules and Their Expected Impact on Community Banks,” Richard Morris and Monica Reyes Grajales noted that “a full discussion of the rules would resemble an advanced course in calculus,” and that the regulators have ignored protests that the rules would have a devastating impact on community banks. Why? The authors suggested that the rules reflect “the new vision of bank regulation—that there should be bigger and fewer banks in the industry.” That means bank consolidation is an intended result of the punishing rules.

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, sponsor of the Financial CHOICE Act downsizing Dodd-Frank, concurs. In a speech in July 2015, he said:

Since the passage of Dodd-Frank, the big banks are bigger and the small banks are fewer. But because Washington can control a handful of big established firms much easier than many small and zealous competitors, this is likely an intended consequence of the Act. Dodd-Frank concentrates greater assets in fewer institutions. It codifies into law ‘Too Big to Fail’ … . [Emphasis added.]

Dodd-Frank institutionalizes “too big to fail” by authorizing the biggest banks to “bail in” or confiscate their creditors’ money in the event of insolvency. The legislation ostensibly reining in the too-big-to-fail banks has just made them bigger. Wall Street lobbyists were well known to have their fingerprints all over Dodd-Frank.

Restoring Community Banking: The Model of North Dakota

Killing off the community banks with regulation means killing off the small and medium-size businesses that rely on them for funding, along with the local economies that rely on those businesses. Community banks service local markets in a way that the megabanks with their standardized lending models are not interested in or capable of.

How can the community banks be preserved and nurtured? For some ideas, we can look to a state where they are still thriving—North Dakota. In an article titled “How One State Escaped Wall Street’s Rule and Created a Banking System That’s 83% Locally Owned,” Stacy Mitchell writes that North Dakota’s banking sector bears little resemblance to that of the rest of the country:

With 89 small and mid-sized community banks and 38 credit unions, North Dakota has six times as many locally owned financial institutions per person as the rest of the nation. And these local banks and credit unions control a resounding 83 percent of deposits in the state—more than twice the 30 percent market share that small and mid-sized financial institutions have nationally.

Their secret is the century-old Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, which partners with and supports the state’s local banks. In an April 2015 article titled “Is Dodd-Frank Killing Community Banks? The More Important Question is How to Save Them,” Matt Stannard writes:

Public banks offer unique benefits to community banks, including collateralization of deposits, protection from poaching of customers by big banks, the creation of more successful deals, and … regulatory compliance. The Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only public bank, directly supports community banks and enables them to meet regulatory requirements such as asset to loan ratios and deposit to loan ratios. … [I]t keeps community banks solvent in other ways, lessening the impact of regulatory compliance on banks’ bottom lines.

We know from FDIC data in 2009 that North Dakota had almost 16 banks per 100,000 people, the most in the country. A more important figure, however, is community banks’ loan averages per capita, which was $12,000 in North Dakota, compared to only $3,000 nationally. … During the last decade, banks in North Dakota with less than $1 billion in assets have averaged a stunning 434 percent more small business lending than the national average.

The BND has been very profitable for the state and its citizens—more profitable, according to the Wall Street Journal, than JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. The BND does not compete with local banks but partners with them, helping with capitalization and liquidity and allowing them to take on larger loans that would otherwise go to larger out-of-state banks.

In order to help rural lenders with regulatory compliance, in 2011 the BND was directed by the state legislature to get into the rural home mortgage origination business. Rural banks that saw only three to five mortgages a year could not shoulder the regulatory burden, leading to business lost to out-of-state banks. After a successful pilot program, SB 2064, establishing the Mortgage Origination Program, was signed by North Dakota’s governor on April 3, 2013. It states that the BND may establish a residential mortgage loan program under which the Bank may originate residential mortgages if private sector mortgage loan services are not reasonably available. Under this program a local financial institution or credit union may assist the Bank in taking a loan application, gathering required documents, ordering required legal documents, and maintaining contact with the borrower. At a hearing on the bill, Rick Clayburgh, President of the North Dakota Bankers Association, testified in its support:

Over the past years because of the regulatory burdens our banks face by the passage of Dodd Frank, and now the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it has become very prohibitive for a number of our banks to provide residential mortgage services anymore. We two years ago worked both with the Independent Community Bankers Association, and our Association and the Bank of North Dakota to come up with the idea in this program to help the bank provide services into the parts of the state that really residential mortgaging has seized up. We have a number of our banks that have terminated doing mortgage loans in their communities. They have stopped the process because they cannot afford to be written up by their regulator.

Under the Mortgage Origination Program, local banks get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee for sending rural mortgage loans to the BND. If the BND touches the money first, the onus is on it to deal with the regulators, something it can afford to do by capitalizing on economies of scale. The local bank thus avoids having to deal with regulatory compliance while keeping its customer.

The BND is the only model of a publicly-owned depository bank in the US; but in Germany, the publicly-owned Sparkassen banks operate a network of over 15,600 branches and are the financial backbone supporting Germany’s strong local business sector. In the matter of regulatory compliance, they too capitalize on economies of scale, by providing a compliance department that pools resources to deal with the onerous regulations imposed on banks by the EU.

The BND and the Sparkassen are proven models for maintaining the viability of local credit and banking services. It is time other states followed North Dakota’s lead, not only to protect their local communities and local banks, but to bolster their revenues, escape the noose of Washington and Wall Street, and provide a bail-in-proof depository for their public funds.

A Bank Even a Socialist Could Love

“Money is a utility that belongs to all of us,” says Walt McRee. McRee is a velvety-voiced former broadcaster now plotting an audacious challenge to the financial system. He’s leading a monthly conference call as chair of the Public Banking Institute (PBI), an educational and advocacy force formed seven years ago to break Wall Street’s stranglehold on state and municipal finance.

“This is one of the biggest eye-openers of my life,” says Rebecca Burke, a New Jersey activist on the call. “Once you see it, you can’t look back.”

This ragtag group—former teachers, small business owners, social workers— wants to charter state and local banks across the country. These banks would leverage tax revenue to make low-interest loans for local public works projects, small businesses, affordable housing and student loans, spurring economic growth while saving people—and the government—money.

At the heart of the public banking concept is a theory about the best way to put America’s abundance of wealth to use. Cities and states typically keep their cash reserves either in Wall Street banks or in low-risk investments. This money tends not to go very far. In California, for example, the Pooled Money Investment Account, an agglomeration of $69.5 billion in state and local revenues, has a modest monthly yield of around three-quarters of a percent.

When state or local governments fund large-scale projects not covered by taxes, they generally either borrow from the bond market at high interest rates or enter into a public-private partnership with investors, who often don’t have community needs at heart.

Wall Street banks have used shady financial instruments to extract billions from unsuspecting localities, helping devastate places like Jefferson County, Ala. Making the wrong bet with debt, like the Kentucky county that built a jail but couldn’t fill it with prisoners, can cripple communities.

Even under the best conditions, municipal bonds—an enormous, $3.8 trillion market—can cost taxpayers. According to Ellen Brown, the intellectual godmother of the public banking movement, debt-based financing often accounts for around half the total cost of an infrastructure project. For example, the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge cost $6.3 billion to build, but paying off the bonds will bring the price tag closer to $13 billion, according to a 2014 report from the California legislature.

Public banks reduce costs in two ways. First, they can offer lower interest rates and fees because they’re not for-profit businesses trying to maximize returns. Second, because the banks are publicly owned, any profit flows back to the city or state, virtually eliminating financing costs and providing governments with extra revenue at no cost to taxpayers.

“It enables local resources to be applied locally, instead of exporting them to Wall Street,” says Mike Krauss, a PBI member in Philadelphia. “It democratizes our money.”

Legislators, Brown says, commonly object that governments “don’t have the money to lend.” But this misunderstands how banks operate. “We’re not lending the revenues, just putting them in a bank.” That is, the deposits themselves—in this case tax revenues—are not what banks loan out. Instead, banks create new money by extending credit. Deposits simply balance a bank’s books. Public banks, then, expand the local money supply available for economic development. And while PBI has yet to successfully charter a bank, there’s an existing model in the unlikeliest of places: North Dakota.

During the Progressive Era, a political organization of prairie populists known as the Nonpartisan League took control of the state government. In 1919, they established the Bank of North Dakota. It has no branches, no ATMs, and one main depositor: the state, its sole owner. From that deposit base, BND makes loans for economic development, including a student loan program.

BND also partners with local private banks across the state on loans that would normally be too big for them to handle. These loans support infrastructure, agriculture and small businesses. Community banks have thrived in North Dakota as a result; there are more per capita than in any other state, and with higher lending totals. During the financial crisis, not a single North Dakota bank failed.

BND loans are far more affordable than those from private investors. BND’s Infrastructure Loan Fund, for example, finances projects at just two percent interest; municipal bonds can have rates roughly four times as high. And according to its 2015 annual report, the most recent available, BND had earned record profits for 12 straight years (reaching $130 million in 2015), during both the Great Recession and the state’s more recent downturn from the collapse in oil prices. A 2014 Wall Street Journal story described BND as more profitable than Goldman Sachs. Over the last decade, hundreds of millions of dollars in BND earnings have been transferred to the state (although the overall social impact is somewhat complicated by the bank’s role in sustaining the Bakken oil boom).

The long march through the legislatures

Brown founded the Public Banking Institute in 2010, after years of evangelizing in articles and books such as The Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Monetary System and How We Can Break Free. Since then, by Walt McRee’s estimate, around 50 affiliated groups have sprouted up in states, counties and cities from Arizona to New Jersey.

“I’ve been working against the system all my life,” says Susan Harman of Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland. “I think public banking is the most radical thing I’ve ever heard.” Harman, a former teacher and a onetime aide to New York City Mayor John Lindsay, helped get the Oakland City Council to pass a resolution last November directing the city to determine the scope and cost of a feasibility study for a public bank—a tiny yet promising first step.

A feasibility study completed by Santa Fe, N.M., in January 2016 found that a public bank could have a $24 million economic impact on the city in its first seven years. A resolution introduced last October would create a task force to help the city prepare to petition the state for a charter. “It’s the smallest municipality investigating public banking,” says Elaine Sullivan of Banking on New Mexico, who hopes the task force could complete its business plan by the end of the year. “We’re interrupting the status quo.”

In February 2016, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously voted to hold hearings discussing a public bank. Advocates are now working with the city treasurer to find funds to capitalize the bank.

PBI has faced a rougher path in state legislatures. In Washington, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D) has introduced a public banking bill for eight straight years. Despite numerous co-sponsors, the bill can’t get out of committee. Efforts in Arizona and Illinois have also gone nowhere. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a feasibility study bill in 2011, arguing the state banking committees could conduct the study; they never did.

One overwhelming force opposes public banking: Wall Street, which warns that public banks put taxpayer dollars at risk. “The bankers have the public so frightened that [public banking] will destroy the economy,” says David Spring of the Washington Public Bank Coalition. “When I talk to legislators, some are opposed to it because ‘it’s for communists and socialists.’ Like there are a lot of socialists in North Dakota!”

In Vermont the financial industry fought a proposed study of public banking, says Gwen Hallsmith, an activist and former city employee of Montpelier. “We don’t have branches of Bank of America or Wells Fargo in Vermont, but they have lobbyists here.” So Hallsmith got the study done herself, through the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont. It found that a state bank would boost gross domestic product 0.64 percent and create 2,500 jobs.

The state eventually passed a “10 percent” program, using 10 percent of its cash reserves to fund local loans, mostly for energy investments like weatherizing homes. Meanwhile, Hallsmith helped push individual towns to pass resolutions in favor of a state bank— around 20 have now done so. Hallsmith says her advocacy came at the expense of her job; the mayor of Montpelier, in whose office she worked, is a bank lobbyist. Hallsmith now coordinates a citizen’s commission for a Bank of Vermont.

Because of state resistance, PBI has encouraged its supporters to go local. And several issues have emerged to assist. For instance, environmental and indigenous activists have demanded that cities move money from the 17 banks that finance the Dakota Access Pipeline. But therein lies another dilemma: Who else can take the money? Community banks and credit unions lack the capacity to manage a city’s entire funds, and larger banks are better equipped to deal with the legal hurdles involved in handling public money. So divesting from one Wall Street bank could just lead to investing in another.

A public bank could solve this problem, either by accepting cities’ deposits or by extending letters of credit to community banks to bolster their ability to take funds. Lawmakers in Seattle have floated a city- or state-owned bank as the best alternative for reinvestment, and Oakland council member Rebecca Kaplan has connected divestment and public banking as well.

Another opportunity arises with marijuana legalization initiatives. Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, most private banks are wary of working with licensed pot shops, fearing legal repercussions. This means many of these shops subsist as all-cash businesses. “It’s seriously dangerous; people arrive in armored cars to City Hall to pay taxes with huge bags of money,” says Susan Harman. In Oakland and Santa Rosa, Calif., public banking advocates are partnering with cannabis sellers to offer public banks as an alternative, which would make the businesses safer while giving the banks another source of capital.

While Donald Trump hasn’t formally introduced a long-discussed infrastructure bill, his emphasis on fixing the nation’s crippling public works has also bolstered the case for public banking. Ellen Brown maintains the country could save a trillion dollars on infrastructure costs through public-bank financing. That’s preferable to Trump’s idea of giving tax breaks to public-private partnerships that want big returns.

From the Great Plains to Trenton

“All it’ll take is the first domino to fall,” says Shelley Browning, an activist from Santa Rosa. “Towns and cities will turn in this direction because there’s no other way to turn.” And PBI members think they’ve found an avatar in Phil Murphy, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs executive leading the polls in New Jersey’s gubernatorial primary this year.

Murphy has made public banking a key part of his platform. “This money belongs to the people of New Jersey,” he said in an economic address last September. “It’s time to bring that money home, so it can build our future, not somebody else’s.”

Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Murphy, tells In These Times that Bank of America holds more than $1 billion in New Jersey deposits, but only made three small business loans in the entire state in 2015. Troubled state pensions could help capitalize a state-owned bank, and would earn more while paying lower fees.

Murphy’s primary opponent, John Wisniewski, chaired the Bernie Sanders campaign in the state, while Murphy raised money for Hillary Clinton. Some believe Murphy is simply using public banking to cover his Wall Street background—and on many issues, Wisniewski’s policy slate is more progressive. But Brown thinks Murphy’s past primed him to recognize public banking’s power: “It’s always the bankers who get it.”

The first new state-owned bank in a century, chartered in the shadow of Wall Street, could shift the landscape. What’s more, blue-state New Jersey and red-state North Dakota agreeing on the same solution would highlight public banking’s biggest asset: transpartisan populist support. “We have Tea Partiers and Occupiers in the same room liking public banking. What does that tell you?” asks PBI’s Mike Krauss.

“Regardless of declared conservative or progressive affiliations,” says state Sen. Hasegawa, “regular folk … almost unanimously grasp the concept.” He is working with Washington’s Tea Partybacked treasurer, Duane Davidson, to advance public banking. “I go to eastern Washington, … they get the whole issue about independence from Wall Street and corporate control.”

In fact, Krauss is himself a Republican. “The biggest thing going on in America, people decided we don’t have any control anymore,” he says. “Whether it’s Bernie’s people or Trump’s people, they’re articulating the same thing but differently. … They want control of their money—and it is their money.”

 

What a State-Owned Bank Can Do for New Jersey

Phil Murphy, the leading Democratic candidate for governor of New Jersey, has made a state-owned bank a centerpiece of his campaign. He says the New Jersey bank would “take money out of Wall Street and put it to work for New Jersey – creating jobs and growing the economy [by] using state deposits to finance local investments … and … support billions of dollars of critical investments in infrastructure, small businesses, and student loans – saving our residents money and returning all profits to the taxpayers.”

A former Wall Street banker himself, Murphy knows how banking works. But in an April 7 op-ed in The New Jersey Spotlight, former New Jersey state treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff questioned the need for a state-owned bank and raised the issue of risk. This post is in response to those arguments, including a short refresher on the stellar model of the Bank of North Dakota (BND), currently the nation’s only state-owned depository bank.

Which Is Safer, a Public Bank or a Private Bank?

Sidamon-Eristoff warns, “[W]e need to remember that a public bank would be lending the state’s operating cash balances – we’re not talking about an enormous pool of unused, unencumbered cash – and that any repayment shortfalls or liquidity restrictions could potentially impact the availability of funds for employee salaries and other regular operating expenses.”

As the Bank of England recently confirmed, however, banks do not actually lend their deposits. The deposits at all times remain in the bank, available for withdrawal. They are no less available to the state when deposited in its own bank than in Bank of America. In fact, they are more at risk in Bank of America and other Wall Street banks, which with the repeal of Glass-Steagall are allowed to commingle their funds. That means they can gamble with their deposits in derivatives and other risky ventures, something a transparent and accountable state-owned bank would not be allowed to do.

Today, government deposits are at risk in private banks for another reason. Banks across the country are telling governments of all sizes that they can no longer provide the collateral required to fully protect these deposits while paying a competitive interest rate on them, due to heightened regulatory requirements. FDIC insurance covers only the first $250,000 of these deposits, a sum government revenues far exceed. The bulk of these deposits are thus left insufficiently protected against a banking collapse like that seen in 2008-09—something that is widely predicted to happen again.

In North Dakota, by contrast, state revenues are deposited by law in the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and are guaranteed by the state. The BND pays a competitive interest rate on these deposits that is generally at about the midpoint of rates paid by other banks in the state. The BND, in turn, guarantees municipal government deposits, which are generally reserved for local banks. Unlike in other states, where local banks must back public deposits with collateral to an extent that makes the funds largely unavailable for lending, North Dakota’s community banks are able to use their municipal government deposits to back loans because the BND provides letters of credit guaranteeing them.

The concern that a New Jersey state-owned bank might make risky loans can be obviated by limiting lending, at least initially, to the same sorts of loans the state makes now, using the same underwriting standards. Sidamon-Eristoff observes that “the state already maintains a comprehensive range of economic development, infrastructure finance, housing finance, and student assistance programs.” What financing through the state’s own bank would add is leverage. State and local governments routinely make loans through revolving funds, in which the money has to be there before it can be lent out and must come back before it is lent again. Chartered depository banks are allowed to leverage their capital into 10 times that sum (or more) in loans, acquiring the liquidity for withdrawals as needed from the wholesale markets (Fed funds, the repo market or the Federal Home Loan Banks). A bank with adequate capital will lend to any creditworthy borrower, without first checking its deposits or its reserves.  If the bank has insufficient reserves, it can borrow from a variety of cheap sources that are normally the exclusive province of the banking club, but that local governments and communities can tap into by owning their own banks.

That is one of the major benefits to the state of having its own bank: it can borrow very cheaply in the money markets. It can get the sort of Wall Street perks not otherwise available to governments, businesses, or individuals; and it is backstopped by the Federal Reserve system if it runs short of funds.  This is the magic that allows banks to be so profitable, and it is what makes a publicly-owned bank exceptionally useful at state and local levels of government.

Cutting the Cost of Infrastructure in Half

Consider the possibilities, for example, for funding infrastructure. Like most states today, New Jersey suffers from serious budget problems, limiting its ability to make needed improvements. By funding infrastructure through its own bank, the state can cut infrastructure costs roughly in half, since 50 percent of the cost of infrastructure, on average, is financing. Again, a state-owned bank can do this by leveraging its capital, with any shortfall covered very cheaply in the wholesale markets. In effect, the state can borrow at bankers’ rates of 1 percent or less, rather than at market rates of 4 to 6 percent for taxable infrastructure bonds (not to mention the roughly 12 percent return expected by private equity investors).  The state can borrow at 1 percent and turn a profit even if it lends for local development at only 2 percent—one-half to two-thirds below bond market rates.

That is the rate at which North Dakota lends for infrastructure. In 2015, the state legislature established a BND Infrastructure Loan Fund program that made $150 million available to local communities for a wide variety of infrastructure needs. These loans have a 2 percent fixed interest rate and a term of up to 30 years; and the 2 percent goes back to the State of North Dakota, so it’s a win-win-win for local residents.

The BND is able to make these cheap loans while still turning a tidy profit because its costs are very low: no exorbitantly-paid executives; no bonuses, fees, or commissions; very low borrowing costs; no need for multiple branch offices; no FDIC insurance premiums; no private shareholders. Profits are recycled back into the bank, the state and the community.

In November 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that the BND was actually more profitable than the largest Wall Street banks, with a return on equity that was 70 percent greater than for JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. This remarkable performance was attributed to the state’s oil boom; but the boom has now become an oil bust, yet the BND’s profits continue to climb. In its latest annual report, published in April 2016, the bank boasted its most profitable year ever. The BND has had record profits for the last 12 years, each year outperforming the last. In 2015 it reported $130.7 million in earnings, total assets of $7.4 billion, capital of $749 million, and a return on equity of a whopping 18.1 percent.

The BND Partners, Not Competes, with Local Banks

Sidamon-Eristoff argues that “a new public bank would inevitably compete against New Jersey’s private banks for routine business.” But the BND does not compete with private banks either for municipal deposits or for loans. Rather, it partners with local banks, participating in their loans. The local bank acts as the front office dealing directly with customers. The BND acts more like a “bankers’ bank,” helping with liquidity and capital requirements. By partnering with the BND, local banks can take on projects in which Wall Street has no interest, projects that might otherwise go unfunded, including loans for local infrastructure.

The BND helps local private banks in other ways. It acts as a mini-Fed for the state, providing correspondent banking services to virtually every financial institution in North Dakota. It offers secured and unsecured federal funds lines to over 100 financial institutions, along with check-clearing, cash management and automated clearing house services.  Because it assists local banks with mortgages and guarantees their loans, local banks have been able to keep loans on their books rather than selling them to investors to meet capital requirements, allowing them to avoid the subprime and securitization debacles.

Due to this amicable relationship, the North Dakota Bankers’ Association endorses the BND as a partner rather than a competitor of the state’s private banks.  Indeed, it may be the BND that ultimately saves local North Dakota banks from extinction as the number of banks in the US steadily shrinks. North Dakota has more banks per capita than any other state.

Bolstering the State’s Budget

The BND also helps directly with state government funding as needed. Between 2009 and 2016, the BND retained its profits because the state did not need them and the bank needed the additional capital for its rapidly expanding loan portfolio. But in December 2016, Governor Jack Dalrymple proposed returning $200 million from the bank’s profits to the state’s general fund, to help make up for a budget shortfall caused by collapsing oil and soybean proceeds. Dalrymple commented, “Our economic advisers have told us there is no similar state in the nation that could have weathered such a collapse in commodity prices without serious impacts on their financial condition.”

The BND also served as a rainy day fund when the state went over-budget in 2001-02 due to the dot-com bust. The bank simply declared an extra dividend for the state, and the next year the budget was back on track: no massive debt accumulation, no Wall Street bid-rigging, no fraudulent interest-rate swaps, no capital appreciation bonds at 300% interest.

Having a cheap and ready credit line with the state’s own bank can have similar benefits for New Jersey and other states. It can reduce the need for wasteful rainy-day funds invested at minimal interest in out-of-state banks; allow the state to leverage its funds, expanding its current credit facilities without adding to the state’s debt burden; cut infrastructure costs nearly in half; and jumpstart the economy with new development,  new employment, and an expanded tax base.

_____________________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Democracy Collaborative., and author of twelve books including Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution. She also co-hosts a radio program on PRN.FM called “It’s Our Money.” Her 300+ blog articles are posted at EllenBrown.com.

 

The Savings And Stability Of Public Banking

As a society obsessed by money, we pay a gigantic price for not educating high school and college students about money and banking. The ways of the giant global banks – both commercial and investment operations – are as mysterious as they are damaging to the people. Big banks use the Federal Reserve to maximize their influence and profits. The federal Freedom of Information Act provides an exemption for matters that are “contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.” This exemption allows financial institutions to wallow in secrecy. Financial institutions are so influential in Congress that Senator Durbin (D, IL) says “[The banks] frankly own this place.”

Although anti-union, giant financial institutions have significant influence over the investments of worker pension funds. Their certainty of being bailed out because they are seen as “too big to fail” harms the competitiveness of smaller, community banks and allows the big bankers to take bigger risks with “other people’s money,” as Justice Brandeis put it.

These big banks are so pervasive in their reach that even unions and progressive media, such as The Nation magazine and Democracy Now have their accounts with JP Morgan Chase.

The government allows banks to have concentrated power. Taxpayers and Consumers are charged excessive fees and paid paltry interest rates on savings. The bonds of municipalities are are also hit with staggering fees and public assets like highways and public drinking water systems are corporatized by Goldman Sachs and other privatizers with sweetheart multi-decade leases.

Then there are the immense taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street, such as those in 2008-2009 after the financial industry’s recklessness and crimes brought down the economy, cost workers 8 million jobs, and shredded the pension and mutual fund savings of the American people.

Standing like a beacon of stability, responsiveness and profitability is the 98 year-old, state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND). As reported by Ellen Brown, prolific author and founder of the Public Banking Institute (Santa Clarita, California), “The BND has had record profits for the last 12 years” (avoiding the Wall Street crash) “each year outperforming the last. In 2015 it reported $130.7 million in earnings, total assets of $7.4 billion, capital of $749 million, and a return on investment of a whopping 18.1 percent. Its lending portfolio grew by $486 million, a 12.7 percent increase, with growth in all four of its areas of concentration: agriculture, business, residential and student loans…”

North Dakota’s economy is depressed because of the sharp drop in oil prices. So the BND moved to help. Again, Ellen Brown:

In 2015, it introduced new infrastructure programs to improve access to medical facilities, remodel or construct new schools, and build new road and water infrastructure. The Farm Financial Stability Loan was introduced to assist farmers affected by low commodity prices or below-average crop production. The BND also helped fund 300 new businesses.

All this is in a state with half the population of Phoenix or Philadelphia.

A California coalition is forming to establish a state-owned bank for California. Coalition organizers say a California State Bank will cut the state’s long-term financing costs in half, compared to what avaricious Wall Street is charging. The nation’s largest state (equivalent to the world’s sixth largest economy) can free itself from massive debt accumulation, bid-rigging, deceptive interest-rate swaps and capital appreciation bonds at 300% interest over time.

What assets does the state have to make this bank fully operational? California has surplus funds which total about $600 billion, including those in a Pooled Money Investment account managed by the State Treasurer that contains $54 billion earning less than 1 percent interest.

Money in these funds is earmarked for specific expenditure purposes, but they can be invested – in a new state bank. To escape from a Wall Street that is, in Brown’s words “sucking massive sums in interest, fees and interest rate swap payments out of California and into offshore tax havens,” a state bank can use its impressive credit power to develop infrastructure in California.

Huge state pension funds and other state funds can provide the deposits. Each one billion dollar capital investment can lend $10 billion for projects less expensively and under open stable banking control by California. Presently, California and other states routinely deposit hundreds of billions of dollars in Wall Street banks at minimal interest, turn around and borrow for infrastructure construction and repair from the Wall Street bond market at much higher interest and fees.

This is a ridiculous form of debt peonage, a lesson Governor Jerry Brown has yet to learn. He and other officials similarly uninformed about how the state of California can be its own banker should visit publicbankinginstitute.org and read Ellen Brown’s book, The Public Bank Solution.

Legislation for public banks is being pursued in the states of Washington, Michigan, Arizona and New Jersey, as well as the cities of Philadelphia and Santa Fe. Look for county commissioners and state treasurers to come on board when they see the enormous safeguards and savings that can be secured through “public banks” in contrast to the convoluted casino run by unaccountable Wall Street gamblers and speculators.

A longtime backer of public banking, retired entrepreneur Richard Mazess, hopes that national civic groups like Public Citizen, Common Cause, People for the American Way and Consumer Watchdog can get behind the proposal. “Public, not private, infrastructure is essential for an equitable economy,” he says.

California already has a public infrastructure bank called the IBank. Mr. Mazess and others believe that expanding the existing IBank into a depository institution would be more likely to pass through the California legislature. The deposits would come from public institutions, and NGOs (not from private persons). These pension funds and other public deposits would become reserves and serve as the basis for safely leveraged loans to public projects at a conservative tenfold multiplier. No derivatives or other shenanigans allowed.

Before that proposal can be enacted, however, there needs to be much more education of state legislators and the public at large.

Such enlightenment would illuminate the enormous savings, along with the restoration of state sovereignty from the absentee, exploitative grip of an unrepentant, speculating, profiteering Wall Street that believes it can always go to Washington, DC for its taxpayer bailouts.

 

Cities and States Prefer Public Banks to Wall Street

Alarmed by the corruption and greed of Wall Street, many US cities and states are studying the feasibility of establishing public banks.

By John Lawrence, San Diego Free Press

Image_WS_Stole_From_You

Public banks are owned by cities, states or other jurisdictions and serve to keep funds local instead of being deposited on Wall Street. The funds are then used to support local economic activities like small business loans and student loans.

Washington State has already cut its ties with Wells Fargo because they funded DAPL. Now they want to get rid of Wall Street as a place to park their money making use of the local economy and profiting the people of Washington instead of the bankers of Wall Street. Bills were introduced on January 18 in both the House and Senate of the Washington State Legislature that add Washington to the growing number of states now actively moving to create public banking facilities.

Ellen Brown, author of Web of Debt and The Public Banking Solution writes:

The bills, House Bill 1320 and Senate Bill 5238, propose creation of a Washington Investment Trust (WIT) to “promote agriculture, education, community development, economic development, housing, and industry” by using “the resources of the people of Washington State within the state.”

Currently, all the state’s funds are deposited with Bank of America. HB 1320 proposes that, in the future, “all state funds be deposited in the Washington Investment Trust and be guaranteed by the state and used to promote the common good and public benefit of all the people and their businesses within [the] state.”

The legislation is similar to that now being studied or proposed in states including Illinois, Virginia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, Michigan, Oregon, California, and others.

Santa Fe, NM Considers Public Bank as Trump Threatens to Take Away Funding for Sanctuary Cities

The Mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico has declared his city to be a sanctuary city in which case Trump has threatened to deny Federal monies to the city. The Mayor noted that Santa Fe had welcomed immigrants for over 400 years. A public bank could replace that funding:

If McEvers [interviewer from NPR] had asked what possible sources of funding might replace the money Trump is threatening to take away, Gonzales might have answered that Santa Fe was in the advanced stages of considering the creation of a publicly owned bank. In late October, three City Council members introduced a resolution to take the “final steps to determine” whether a public bank would be feasible. Earlier in 2016, a local advocacy group named Banking on New Mexico released a five-year model projecting that a Santa Fe bank could reduce debt service costs by $1 million a year and earn an annual profit, netting the city over $10 million in the bank’s first five years. While that wouldn’t completely offset funds the new administration is threatening to withhold, it would put the city in better shape to absorb the loss and begin the process of building an autonomous local economy that over time could transcend much of the need for federal dollars.

Oakland, CA Gets Serious About Public Banking

Two Council members have introduced a resolution to the Oakland City Council which says in part:

Resolution Directing The City Administrator To Prepare An Informational Report With The Cost Estimates Of Commissioning A Study Analyzing The Feasibility And Economic Impact Of Establishing A Public Bank For Or Including The City Of Oakland, And Providing Funding Options For The Feasibility Study, Including The Option Of Allocating To The Study Any Remainder Of The Money That Was Budgeted For The Goldman Sachs Debarment Proceedings.

Image_PBSolution

WHEREAS, a public bank can have investment priorities that focus on the creation of jobs in Oakland that spur local economic growth by providing affordable credit to small and medium-sized businesses that have been historically ignored by the larger, more established banks; and

WHEREAS, a public bank can have investment priorities that center on providing loans for low and moderate income housing to help relieve the current housing crisis facing Oakland; and

WHEREAS, a public bank can have investment priorities that provide loans for energy conservation, installation of solar panels and measures for conserving water in Oakland; and

WHEREAS, Wall Street banks seek short-term profits for their private shareholders by investing in stocks, derivatives, credit default swaps and other speculative financial instruments; and

WHEREAS, there is a desire for local funding solutions that reinvest public funds in the local community; and

WHEREAS, public banking operates in the public interest, through institutions owned by the people through their representative governments; and

WHEREAS, public banks are able to return revenue to the community and can provide low-cost financing in support of City policies; and

WHEREAS, on September 8, 2016, Wells Fargo bank was fined $185 million for fraudulently opening up accounts without customers’ consent, which then damaged customers’ credit scores and caused customers to be charged illegal banking fees; and

WHEREAS, on May 20, 2015, Citigroup Inc. and JP Morgan Chase & Co. agreed to plead guilty to felony charges for conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the foreign currency exchange spot market; and

WHEREAS, on May 20, 2015, Citigroup Inc. agreed to pay a criminal fine of $945 million and JP Morgan Chase & Co. agreed to pay a criminal fine of $550, for illegally manipulating the foreign exchange market; and

WHEREAS, on May 20, 2015, the Federal Reserve announced that it was imposing a separate set of fines on Citigroup, Inc. and JP Morgan Chase & Co. of $342 million for their illegal practices in the foreign exchange markets; and

WHEREAS, on March 9th, 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wall Street banks had paid in total more than $100 billion in fines and penalties for mortgage-related fraud, and

WHEREAS, said Wall Street banks’ criminal conduct and wrongful behavior should not be rewarded with future business dealings with Oakland; and

WHEREAS, the City of Oakland is tasked with holding and protecting the fundamental interest of the public as well as the financial well-being of the City; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED: That the Oakland City Council directs the City Administrator, or his/her designee, to prepare an informational report with the cost estimates of commissioning experts in public banking to conduct a study analyzing the feasibility and economic impact of establishing a public bank for the City of Oakland;

Please note that these are only a few of the “Whereas’s”. There’s more.

Profits to the People

Currently, the Bank of North Dakota (BND) is the only public bank in the country. All other states and cities deposit their revenues and pension funds with Wall Street with the profits going to Wall Street. That’s why so many states are in dire straits while North Dakota’s fiscal situation is just fine.

According to a January 19, 2017, New York Times article:

[A]lmost everywhere the fiscal crisis of states has grown more acute. Rainy day funds are drained, cities and towns have laid off more than 200,000 people, and Arizona even has leased out its state office building…

“It’s the time of the once unthinkable,” noted Lori Grange, deputy director of the Pew Center on the States. “Whether there are tax increases or dramatic cuts to education and vital services, the crisis is bad.”

Is it any wonder that President Pussy Grabber and his Republican cohorts are calling for the privatization of everything? Their mantra is that government is incompetent when the true fault lies in the fact that states and municipalities are being bled to death by Wall Street. Wall Street banks borrow money from the Fed at zero percent interest and then loan it to municipalities at 5% interest. That profit could go to the municipalities. The antidote for that is to establish a public bank from which profits will flow to the people as they have in North Dakota. Local control of local money should be the mantra.

There is a move in Congress to let states go bankrupt the way many US cities have. For instance, San Bernardino, CA; Stockton, CA; Orange County, CA; Jefferson County, AL; and Detroit, MI have all declared bankruptcy with the result that concomitant pension fund and contractual obligations to unions and others have gone by the wayside.

While those and other cities have been drained by the Wall Street banking crisis which resulted in increased borrowing costs and loss of revenues, BND and North Dakota have churned along quite nicely, thank you very much. They have provided low-cost affordable loans to small businesses and students, thus totally averting the worst effects that most cities and states which rely on Wall Street have suffered.

Image_OccupytheBanks (1)

BND provides back-up for local private banks by offering check clearing services and liquidity support. They invest in North Dakota municipal bonds to provide economic development. In the last ten years, the BND has returned more than a third of a billion dollars to the state’s general fund. North Dakota is one of the few states to consistently post a budget surplus.

Washington State Representative Bob Hasegawa, a prime sponsor of the Washington legislation, called the proposal for a publicly-owned bank “a simple concept that will reap huge benefits for Washington.”

In a letter to constituents, he explained, “The concept (is) to keep taxpayers’ money working here in Washington to build our economy. Currently, all tax revenues go into a ‘Concentration Account’ held by the Bank of America. BoA makes money off our money and we never see those profits again. Instead, we can create our own institution and keep taxpayers’ dollars here in Washington, working for Washington.

Dennis Ortblad writes in the Seattle Times:

“In fact, we propose a public bank in Washington that lends primarily to public institutions — such as school districts, affordable housing programs, public utilities — in order to reduce the state’s or a municipality’s reliance on the expensive bonds and fees in Wall Street markets.”

While President Pussy Grabber, Betsy DeVos and Repubs in general want to privatize everything, a public bank would help to shore up public enterprises like the public school system and local infrastructure. BND has a sterling credit record and earned for the state $130 million in 2015 alone, with total assets of $7.4 billion (its 12th consecutive year of record profits for the people of the state). That $130 million would have gone to Wall Street in any other state.

The US banking system including its central bank, the Federal Reserve, is privately owned. Is it any wonder that during the banking crisis of 2008, the first and only order of business was to bail out the banks, not homeowners who were overdue in their mortgages? They were hung out to dry despite the fact that many were told the bank would “help” them either by lowering interest rates, refinancing or forgiving principal in “underwater” mortgages. A public banking system is beholden not to private interests but to the people of the state or city in which it’s registered.

In an article, Seattle Votes to End $3 Billion Relationship with Wells Fargo Because of the Bank’s Dakota Access Pipeline Financing, Sydney Brownstone writes:

The Seattle City Council has unanimously voted to end the city’s relationship with Wells Fargo over the bank’s financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), its financing of private prison companies, and a regulatory scandal involving the bank’s creation of two million unauthorized accounts.

All nine council members voted to take $3 billion of city funds away from the bank after Seattle’s current contract expires in 2018. The vote occurred just hours after the Army notified Congress that it will be granting an easement allowing DAPL builders to drill under the Missouri River following a presidential memo from Donald Trump.

That $3 billion could find a home in a Seattle or Washington state public bank when one becomes available. All they have to do is mimic North Dakota’s public bank which has been working well for over 100 years. The Public Banking Institute is working on a model which could be replicated in cities and states throughout the US. All city council members would have to do is to vote to replicate the model.

One Seattle City Council member who is determined to bring about a public bank is Kshama Sawant. She is an American socialist politician, activist, and member of the Socialist Alternative. A former software engineer, Sawant became a socialist activist and part-time economics instructor in Seattle after immigrating to the United States. Sawant ran unsuccessfully for the Washington House of Representatives before winning her seat on the Seattle City Council. Sawant was the first socialist to win a city-wide election in Seattle since Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916. Socialist Alternative describes itself as “a community of activists fighting against budget cuts in public services; fighting for living wage jobs and militant, democratic unions; and people of all colors speaking out against racism and attacks on immigrants, students organizing against tuition hikes and war,

Sawant ran unsuccessfully for the Washington House of Representatives before winning her seat on the Seattle City Council. Sawant was the first socialist to win a city-wide election in Seattle since Anna Louise Strong was elected to the School Board in 1916. Socialist Alternative describes itself as “a community of activists fighting against budget cuts in public services; fighting for living wage jobs and militant, democratic unions; and people of all colors speaking out against racism and attacks on immigrants, students organizing against tuition hikes and war, women, and men fighting sexism and homophobia.”

A public bank could cut the cost of building public schools in Washington in half. Half the cost of building new schools is in interest paid to banks and bondholders. That would all come back to state or city coffers depending on whether the
schools were financed by a state or city public bank.

InfoGraphic_WallStreetBanksGraphic: Washington Public Banking Coalition

From the Washington Public Bank Coalition website:

How Our State Can Solve Its Budget Crisis: Create a Public Bank

Cut spending, fire teachers, raise taxes—these are the solutions always proposed to offset Washington State’s budget deficits.  The state’s budget crises do not arise from too much spending or too little taxation on the poor and middle class. Instead, since 2000, corporate tax breaks in Washington State have more than doubled. The state simply isn’t getting enough tax revenue from corporations (see: realwashingtonstatebudget.info).

Also, since the 2008 financial market collapse, banks have cut back on lending.  When small local businesses can’t secure low-interest loans, there are layoffs and business closures in the private sector, which also cause state revenues to plummet. To solve this problem, since 2010, 17 states, including Washington State, have drafted legislation to establish public banks based on the successful Bank of North Dakota.

A Public Bank for Cities in San Diego County

There is a local movement to create a public bank in San Diego. A group has been meeting regularly and is studying the possibilities for several cities within San Diego County. They are meeting with local officials people and hope to use the Oakland Resolution cited partially above as a first step in getting the ball rolling.

Notwithstanding some setbacks and some attrition of the ranks, our courageous group continues to fight for banking reform and the creation of public banks throughout California.  We have been encouraged by the recent success in Oakland with the unanimous approval of the Public Banking Resolution by their City Council. It gives us hope! We need referrals to the mayors, city Council members and finance directors for the 18 incorporated cities in San Diego County to stop our money from flowing to Wall Street!

________________

John Lawrence graduated from Georgia Tech, Stanford and University of California at San Diego. While at UCSD, he was one of the original writer/workers on the San Diego Free Press in the late 1960s. He founded the San Diego Jazz Society in 1984 which had grants from the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and presented both local and nationally known jazz artists. John received a Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego chapter, 2014 award. His website is Social Choice and Beyond which exemplifies his interest in Economic Democracy. His book is East West Synthesis. He also blogs at Will Blog For Food. He can be reached at j.c.lawrence@cox.net.

 

It’s Our Money: Can History Please Not Repeat Itself?

The earliest days of private banking cartels in America occurred before we were the United States. The pattern of private capital determining government policy is centuries old – but so is the sort of public interest banking emerging in the US now. Ellen’s guest Jim Hogue, an author, broadcaster and historian, recounts how the struggle for control of finance rocked the early American colonies and precipitated a permanent war footing enabled by big finance. Later, cohost Walt McRee talks with Dr. Maurie Cohen about his latest book dealing with the future of consumer society and whether we can create a sustainable post-consumerist economy. LISTEN HERE.

 

How to Cut Infrastructure Costs in Half

Americans could save $1 trillion over 10 years by financing infrastructure through publicly-owned banks like the one that has long been operating in North Dakota.

President Donald Trump has promised to rebuild America’s airports, bridges, tunnels, roads and other infrastructure, something both Democrats and Republicans agree should be done. The country needs a full $3 trillion in infrastructure over the next decade. The $1 trillion plan revealed by Trump’s economic advisers relies heavily on public-private partnerships, and private equity firms are lining up for these plumbing investments. In the typical private equity water deal, for example, higher user rates help the firms earn annual returns of anywhere from 8 to 18 percent – more even than a regular for-profit water company might expect. But the price tag can come as a rude surprise for local ratepayers.

Private equity investment now generates an average return of about 11.8% annually on a 10-year basis. For infrastructure investment, those profits are made on tolls and fees paid by the public. Even at simple interest, that puts the cost to the public of financing $1 trillion in infrastructure projects at $1.18 trillion, more than doubling the cost. Cities often make these desperate deals because they are heavily in debt and the arrangement can give them cash up front. But as a 2008 Government Accountability Office report warned, “there is no ‘free’ money in public-private partnerships.” Local residents wind up picking up the tab.

There is a more cost-effective alternative. The conservative state of North Dakota is funding infrastructure through the state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) at 2% annually. In 2015, the North Dakota legislature established a BND Infrastructure Loan Fund program that made $50 million in funds available to communities with a population of less than 2,000, and $100 million available to communities with a population greater than 2,000. These loans have a 2% fixed interest rate and a term of up to 30 years. The proceeds can be used for the new construction of water and treatment plants, sewer and water lines, transportation infrastructure and other infrastructure needs to support new growth in a community.

If the Trump $1 trillion infrastructure plan were funded at 2% over 10 years, the interest tab would come to only $200 billion, nearly $1 trillion less than the $1.18 trillion expected by private equity investors. Not only could residents save $1 trillion over 10 years on tolls and fees, but they could save on taxes, since the interest would return to the government, which owned the bank. In effect, the loans would be nearly interest-free to the government.

New Money for Local Economies

Legislators in cash-strapped communities are likely to object, “We can’t afford to lend our revenues. We need them for our budget.” But banks do not lend their deposits. They actually create new money in the form of bank credit when they make loans. That means borrowing from its own bank is not just interest-free to the local government but actually creates new money for the local economy.

As economists at the Bank of England acknowledged in a March 2014 report titled “Money Creation in the Modern Economy”, the vast majority of the money supply is now created by banks when they make loans. The authors wrote:

The reality of how money is created today differs from the description found in some economics textbooks: Rather than banks receiving deposits when households save and then lending them out, bank lending creates deposits. . . . Whenever a bank makes a loan, it simultaneously creates a matching deposit in the borrower’s bank account, thereby creating new money. [Emphasis added.]

Money is not fixed and scarce. It is “elastic”: it is created when loans are made and extinguished when they are paid off. The BOE report said that private banks now create nearly 97 percent of the money supply in this way.

Richard Werner, Chair of International Banking at the University of Southampton in the UK, argues that to get much-needed new money into local economies, rather than borrowing from private investors who cannot create the money they lend, governments should borrow from banks, which create money in the form of deposits when they make loans. And to get that money interest-free, a government should borrow from its own bank, which returns the interest to the government.

Besides North Dakota, many other states and cities are now exploring the public bank option. Feasibility studies done at both state and local levels show that small businesses, employment, low-cost student loans, affordable housing and greater economic stability will result from keeping local public dollars out of the global banking casinos and in the local community. Legislation for public banks is actively being pursued in Washington State, Michigan, Arizona, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and elsewhere. Phil Murphy, the front-running Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor, is basing his platform on a state-owned bank, which he says could fund much-needed infrastructure and other projects.

New Money for a Federal Infrastructure Program

What about funding a federal infrastructure program with interest-free money? Tim Canova, Professor of Law and Public Finance at Nova Southeastern University, argues that the Federal Reserve could capitalize a national infrastructure bank with money generated on its books as “quantitative easing.” (Canova calls it “qualitative easing” – central bank-generated money that actually gets into the real economy.) The Federal Reserve could purchase shares, whether as common stock, preferred stock or debt, either in a national infrastructure bank or in a system of state-owned banks that funded infrastructure in their states. This could be done, says Canova, without increasing taxes, adding to the federal debt or hyperinflating prices.

Another alternative was proposed in 2013 by US Sen. Bernie Sanders and US Rep. Peter DeFazio. They called for a national infrastructure bank funded by the US Postal Service (which did provide basic banking services from 1911 to 1967). With post offices in nearly every community, the USPS has the physical infrastructure for a system of national public banks. In the Sanders/DeFazio plan, deposits would be invested in government securities used to finance infrastructure projects. Besides financing infrastructure without raising taxes, the plan could save the embattled USPS itself, while providing banking services for the one in four households that are unbanked or under-banked.

Reliance on costly private capital for financing public needs has limited municipal growth and reduced public services, while strapping future generations with unsustainable debt. By eliminating the unnecessary expense of turning public dollars into profits for private equity interests, publicly-owned banks can allow the public to retain ownership of its infrastructure while cutting costs nearly in half.

 

Public banks help communities thrive. Why aren’t there more?

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the idea of creating a public bank has been proposed in dozens of states across the country. Cities including Santa Fe, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle are also exploring the option.

Progress has been slow and the only state so far to take concrete action is Vermont, which allows up to 10 percent of its cash balance to be used for lending and investments. But momentum has picked up with a proposal by Phil Murphy, a leading New Jersey gubernatorial candidate, for a public bank as a centerpiece of his economic platform. This proposal was received favorably by the state’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger.

New Jersey has approximately $12 billion of public funds invested in large banks such as Wells Fargo, Capital One and Bank of America. In 2015, Bank of America made only three small business loans in the state. Characterizing New Jersey as “the most under managed asset I’ve ever seen,” Murphy wants public deposits reinvested in the state. This plan is one component of Murphy’s broader objective to stabilize state finances and revive New Jersey’s reputation as an investment hub for technology and innovation.

Under this proposal, the state and potentially municipalities would deposit their revenues with the public bank. That capital would be leveraged into credit to support economic development and public investments. The bank would support community banks by acting as a secondary lender to help them compete with big banks. This, in turn, helps small businesses and local economies as community banks account for most small business loans.

The bank’s profits are returned to the state through dividends. The state could borrow at reduced or zero interest for projects such as infrastructure improvements. Interest payments and fees to private banks potentially double the cost of such government projects, according to Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute.

Public banking is nothing new. It accounts for 40 percent of banking worldwide. Infrastructure investment funds are already used in more than 30 states nationally. But currently the only public bank in the U.S. is the Bank of North Dakota (BND), which has operated for almost 100 years. Following the 2008 crisis, North Dakota had the lowest national default and unemployment rates and was the only state reporting major surpluses. The bank’s success has inspired public bank proponents.

BND’s success model includes prudent management, insulation from political influence, and a supporting role on behalf of local financial institutions. It wisely avoided subprime lending. The bank’s state-appointed advisory board consists of finance experts, its executives are experienced bankers, and routine lending decisions are made by professionals.

Most BND loans originate from community banks and credit unions. Over the last decade the bank has reported record earnings, with more than $130 million in earnings and an impressive 18 percent return on investment in 2015. According to a 2011 study, two-thirds of the bank’s profits were returned to the state over a 35-year period and it responds more quickly during natural disasters then the federal government.

BND primarily services government agencies and local financial institutions. It deals directly with customers in only limited circumstances, such as student loans (the bank issued the nation’s first federally-insured student loan in 1967. Accordingly, the bank functions as a partner, not competitor, with community banks. For example, in addition to providing liquidity and secondary lending, BND provides letters of credit that allow local banks to accept deposits and manage funds for municipalities and counties.

Consequently, public banking can act as a counterweight against too-big-to-fail consolidation. Ever since the Riegle-Neal Act of 1994 allowing interstate banking, consolidation has increased dramatically. This trend only accelerated following the 2008 financial crisis. Since 1996, the number of banks nationally has declined from 11,454 to 5,170. More troubling, the seven biggest banks control 56 percent of all industry assets. This consolidation reduces competition and potentially increases systemic risk. It also explains why the bank lobby opposes public banks, employing “free market” rhetoric while benefiting from government largess.

The potential for public banks to counter big bank consolidation is multifaceted. In addition to providing an alternative depository for public funds and source of credit for public entities, support for community banking allows local financial institutions to compete with big banks. Competition and decentralization are worthy policy goals that contribute to stability. Indeed, North Dakota has the highest number of community banks per capita in the nation and weathered the 2008 crisis better than most.

The next governor of New Jersey will confront major economic challenges: slow growth, poor business climate, aging infrastructure, an underfunded pension system, and the reality of being the third-most indebted state in the nation. Under Gov. Chris Christie, the state’s credit rating has been downgraded a staggering 10 times.

In conjunction with other measures, a public bank could be part of the solution. The 2017 gubernatorial election may very well give Phil Murphy the opportunity to demonstrate that public banking works beyond North Dakota.

Douglas Singleterry is counsel at Vasios, Kelly & Strollo, where is specializes in civil litigation. He is co-author of the New Jersey Uniform Commercial Code and has served on the North Plainfield Borough Council since 2005. Zenon Christodoulou is a management consultant and adjunct professor at William Paterson Universitys Cotsakos School of Business.

A Revolutionary Pope Calls for Rethinking the Outdated Criteria That Rule the World

wofd-cover-squarePosted on July 3, 2015 by Ellen Brown

Pope Francis’ revolutionary encyclical addresses not just climate change but the banking crisis. Interestingly, the solution to that crisis may have been modeled in the Middle Ages by Franciscan monks following the Saint from whom the Pope took his name.

Pope Francis has been called “the revolutionary Pope.” Before he became Pope Francis, he was a Jesuit Cardinal in Argentina named Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of a rail worker. Moments after his election, he made history by taking on the name Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi, the leader of a rival order known to have shunned wealth to live in poverty.

Pope Francis’ June 2015 encyclical is called “Praised Be,” a title based on an ancient song attributed to St. Francis. Most papal encyclicals are addressed only to Roman Catholics, but this one is addressed to the world. And while its main focus is considered to be climate change, its 184 pages cover much more than that. Among other sweeping reforms, it calls for a radical overhaul of the banking system. It states in Section IV:

Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, forgoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.

. . . A strategy for real change calls for rethinking processes in their entirety, for it is not enough to include a few superficial ecological considerations while failing to question the logic which underlies present-day culture.

“Rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world” is a call to revolution, one that is necessary if the planet and its people are to survive and thrive. Beyond a change in our thinking, we need a strategy for eliminating the financial parasite that is keeping us trapped in a prison of scarcity and debt.

Interestingly, the model for that strategy may have been created by the Order of the Saint from whom the Pope took his name. Medieval Franciscan monks, defying their conservative rival orders, evolved an alternative public banking model to serve the poor at a time when they were being exploited with exorbitant interest rates.

The Franciscan Alternative: Banking for the People

In the Middle Ages, the financial parasite draining the people of their assets and livelihoods was understood to be “usury” – charging rent for the use of money. Lending money at interest was forbidden  to Christians, as a breach of the prohibition on usury proclaimed by Jesus in Luke 6:33. But there was a serious shortage of the precious metal coins that were the official medium of exchange, creating a need to expand the money supply with loans on credit.

An exception was therefore made to the proscription against usury for the Jews, whose Scriptures forbade usury only to “brothers” (meaning other Jews). This gave them a virtual monopoly on lending, however, allowing them to charge excessively high rates because there were no competitors.  Interest sometimes went as high as 60 percent.

These rates were particularly devastating to the poor.  To remedy the situation, Franciscan monks, defying the prohibitions of the Dominicans and Augustinians, formed charitable pawnshops called montes pietatus (pious or non-speculative collections of funds). These shops lent at low or no interest on the security of valuables left with the institution.

The first true mons pietatis made loans that were interest-free. Unfortunately, it went broke in the process.  Expenses were to come out of the original capital investment; but that left no money to run the bank, and it eventually had to close.

Franciscan monks then established montes pietatis in Italy that lent at low rates of interest. They did not seek to make a profit on their loans. But they faced bitter opposition, not only from their banking competitors but from other theologians.  It was not until 1515 that the montes were officially declared to be meritorious.

After that, they spread rapidly in Italy and other European countries.   They soon evolved into banks, which were public in nature and served public and charitable purposes. This public bank tradition became the modern European tradition of public, cooperative and savings banks. It is particularly strong today in the municipal banks of Germany called Sparkassen.

The public banking concept at the heart of the Sparkassen was explored in the 18th century by the Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, in a treatise called The Plan of a National Bank. Berkeley visited America and his work was studied by Benjamin Franklin, who popularized the public banking model in colonial Pennsylvania. In the US today, the model is exemplified in the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

From “Usury” to “Financialization”

What was condemned as usury in the Middle Ages today goes by the more benign term “financialization” – turning public commodities and services into “asset classes” from which wealth can be siphoned by rich private investors. Far from being condemned, it is lauded as the way to fund development in an age in which money is scarce and governments and people everywhere are in debt.

Land and natural resources, once considered part of the commons, have long been privatized and financialized. More recently, this trend has been extended to pensions, health, education and housing. Today financialization has entered a third stage, in which it is invading infrastructure, water, and nature herself. Capital is no longer content merely to own. The goal today is to extract private profit at every stage of production and from every necessity of life.

The dire effects can be seen particularly in the financialization of food. The international food regime has developed over the centuries from colonial trading systems to state-directed development to transnational corporate control. Today the trading of food commodities by hedgers, arbitrageurs and index speculators has disconnected markets from the real-world demand for food. The result has been sudden shortages, price spikes and food riots. Financialization has turned farming from a small scale, autonomous and ecologically-sustainable craft to a corporate assembly process that relies on patented technologies and equipment increasingly financed through debt.

We have bought into this financialization scheme based on a faulty economic model, in which we have allowed money to be created privately by banks and lent to governments and people at interest. The vast majority of the circulating money supply is now created by private banks in this way, as the Bank of England recently acknowledged.

Meanwhile, we live on a planet that holds the promise of abundance for all. Mechanization and computerization have streamlined production to the point that, if the work week and corporate profits were divided equitably, we could be living lives of ease, with our basic needs fulfilled and plenty of leisure to pursue the interests we find rewarding. We could, like St. Francis, be living like the lilies of the field. The workers and materials are available to build the infrastructure we need, provide the education our children need, provide the care the sick and elderly need. Inventions are waiting in the wings that could clean up our toxic environment, save the oceans, recycle waste, and convert sun, wind and perhaps even zero-point energy into usable energy sources.

The holdup is in finding the funding for these inventions. Our politicians tell us “we don’t have the money.” Yet China and some other Asian countries are powering ahead with this sort of sustainable development. Where have they found the money?

The answer is that they simply issue it. What private banks do in Western countries, publicly-owned and -controlled banks do in many Asian countries. Their governments have taken control of the engines of credit – the banks – and operated them for the benefit of the public and their own economies.

What blocks Western economies from pursuing that course is a dubious economic theory called “monetarism.” It is based on the premise that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon,” and that the chief cause of inflation is money “created out of thin air” by governments. In the 1970s, the Basel Committee discouraged governments from issuing money themselves or borrowing from their own central banks which issued it. Instead they were to borrow from “the market,” which generally meant borrowing from private banks. Overlooked was the fact, recently acknowledged by the Bank of England, that the money borrowed from banks is also created out of thin air. The difference is that bank-created money originates as a debt and comes with a hefty private interest charge attached.

We can break free from this exploitative system by returning the power to create money to governments and the people they represent. The strategy for real change called for by Pope Francis can be furthered with government-issued money of the sort originated by the American colonists, augmented by a network of publicly-owned banks of the sort established by the Order of St. Francis in the Middle Ages.

____________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. Her latest book, The Public Bank Solution, explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 300+ blog articles are at EllenBrown.com.