… Move “Our” Money: The Public Bank Movement:
- The Move Your Money campaign has been wildly successful in mobilizing people and raising awareness of the issues, but it has not made much of a dent in the reserves of Wall Street banks, which already had $1.6 trillion sitting in reserve accounts as a result of the Fed’s second round of quantitative easing in 2010.
- What might make a louder statement would be for local governments to divest their funds from Wall Street, and some local governments are now doing this. Local governments collectively have well over a trillion dollars deposited in Wall Street banks.
- A major problem with the divestment process is finding local banks large enough to take the deposits. One proposed solution is for states, counties and cities to establish their own banks, capitalized with their own rainy day funds and funded with their own revenues as a deposit base.
- Today only one state actually does this, North Dakota. North Dakota is also the only state to have escaped the credit crisis of 2008, sporting a sizeable budget surplus every year since. It has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, the lowest default rate on credit card debt, and no state government debt at all. The Bank of North Dakota (BND) has an excellent credit rating and returns a hefty dividend to the state every year.
- The BND model hasn’t yet been duplicated in other states, but a movement is afoot. Since 2010, 18 states have introduced legislation of one sort or another for a state-owned bank.
Values-based Banking: Too Sustainable to Fail:
- Meanwhile, there is a strong movement at the local level for sustainable, “values-based” banking—conventional banks committed to responsible lending and service to the local community. These are George Bailey-style banks, which base their decisions first and foremost on the needs of people and the environment.
- One of the leaders internationally is Triodos Bank, which has local offices in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany. Its website says that it makes Socially Responsible Investments that are selected according to strict sustainability criteria and overseen by an international panel of “stakeholder” representatives representing various community, environmental, and worker interest groups. Investments include the financing of more than 1,000 organic and sustainable food production projects, more than 300 renewable energy projects, 33 fair trade agricultural exporters in 22 different countries, 85 microfinance institutions in 43 countries, and 398 cultural and arts projects.
- Two U.S. banks exemplifying the model are One PacificCoast Bank and New Resource Bank. Operating in California, Oregon and Washington, One PacificCoast is comprised of a sustainable community development bank with around $300 million in assets and a non-profit foundation (One PacificCoast Foundation). Its commercial lending business focuses on such sectors as specialty agriculture, renewable energy, green building, and low-income housing. Foundation activities include programs to “help eliminate discrimination, encourage affordable housing, alleviate economic distress, stimulate community development and increase financial literacy.”
- New Resource Bank is a California based B-corporation (“Benefit”) with $171 million in assets, which focuses its lending and banking services on local green and sustainable businesses. New Resource was recognized in 2012 as one of the Best for the World businesses, being in the top 10 percent of all certified B-Corporations and scoring more than 50 percent higher than 2,000 other sustainable businesses in overall positive social and environmental impact.
- All this might be good for the world, but isn’t investing locally in a values-based bank riskier and less profitable than putting your money on Wall Street? Not according to a study commissioned by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). The 2012 study compared the financial profiles between 2007 and 2010 of 17 values-based banks with 27 Globally Systemically Important Financial Institutions (GSIFIs)—basically the too-big-to-fail banks, including Bank of America, JPMorgan, Barclays, Citicorp and Deutsche Bank. According to the GABV report, values-based banks delivered higher financial returns than some of the world’s largest financial institutions, with a return on assets averaging above 0.50 percent, compared to just 0.33 percent for the GSIFIs; and returns on equity averaging 7.1 percent, compared to 6.6 percent for the GSIFIs. They appeared to be stronger financially, with both higher levels of and better quality capital; and they were twice as likely to invest their assets in loans.
CDFIs: … //
… Less Money for Banks and More for Workers – The Models of Germany and Japan:
- Values-based banks and CDFIs are a move in the right direction, but their market share in the U.S. remains small. To see the possibilities of a banking system with a mandate to serve the public, we need to look abroad. Germany and Japan are export powerhouses, in second and third place globally for net exports. (The U.S. trails at 192nd.) One competitive advantage for both of these countries is that their companies have ready access to low-cost funding from cooperatively-owned banks.
- In Germany, about half the total assets of the banking system are in the public sector, while another substantial chunk is in cooperative savings banks. Germany’s strong public banking system includes eleven regional public banks (Landesbanken) and thousands of municipally-owned savings banks (Sparkassen). After the Second World War, it was the publicly-owned Landesbanks that helped family-run provincial companies get a foothold in world markets. The Landesbanks are key tools of German industrial policy, specializing in loans to the Mittelstand, the small-to-medium size businesses that drive the country’s export engine.
- Because of the Landesbanks, small firms in Germany have as much access to capital as large firms. Workers in the small business sector earn the same wages as those in big corporations, have the same skills and training, and are just as productive. In January 2011, the net value of Germany’s exports over its imports was 7 percent of GDP, the highest of any nation. But it hasn’t had to outsource its labor force to get that result. The average hourly compensation (wages plus benefits) of German manufacturing workers is $48—a full 50 percent more than the $32 hourly average for their American counterparts.
- In Japan, the banks are principally owned not by shareholders but by other companies in the same keiretsu or industrial group, in a circular arrangement in which the companies basically own each other. Even when there are nominal outside owners, corporations are managed so that the bulk of the wealth generated by the corporation flows either to the workers as income or to investment in the company, making the workers and the company the beneficial owners.
- Since the 1980s, U.S. companies have focused on maximizing short-term profits at the expense of workers and longer-term goals. This trend stems in part from the fact that they are now funded largely by capital from shareholders who own the company and want simply to grow their returns. According to a 2005 report from the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, equity financing is more than twice as important in the U.S. as in Europe, accounting for 116 percent of GDP compared with 62 percent in Japan and 54 percent in the eurozone countries. In both Europe and Japan, the majority of corporate funding comes not from investors but from borrowing, either from banks or from the bond market.
- Funding with low-interest loans from cooperatively-owned banks leaves greater control of the company in the hands of employees who either own it or have much more say in its operation. Access to low-interest loans can also slash production costs. According to German researcher Margrit Kennedy, when interest charges are added up at every level of production, 40 percent of the cost of goods, on average, comes from interest.
- Globally, the burgeoning movement for local, cooperatively-owned and community-oriented banks is blazing the trail toward a new, sustainable form of banking. The results may not yet qualify as the Golden Age prophesied by Hindu cosmology, but they are a major step in that direction.
(Ellen Brown is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how a private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are Web of Debt.com and Ellen Brown.com. Ellen Brown is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Ellen Brown).