Wednesday, March 17, 2010

State Owned Banks

Given the slow pace of financial service reforms, some states are looking for ways to avoid the "too big to fail" syndrome. One approach being looked at is is state owned banking.

That's a question that a growing number of candidates and legislators across the country are answering with proposals to create state-owned banks. Though these initiatives borrow from an old model--North Dakota has run a successful state bank since 1919--they are a response to a new reality: the hundreds of billions of public dollars plowed into big banks by the federal bailout have done little to free credit for job creation or economic development in recession-ravaged communities. So, taking a cue from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and other critics of private-bank bailouts, latter-day populists are proposing to put public money to work for the public good.

From the Bank of North Dakota history:

During the early 1900's, North Dakota's economy was based on agriculture. Serious in-state problems prevented cohesive efforts in buying and selling crops and financing farm operations. Grain dealers outside the state suppressed grain prices; farm suppliers increased their prices; and interest rates on farm loans climbed.

By 1919, popular consensus wanted state ownership and control of marketing and credit agencies. Thus, the state legislature established Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator Association.

Bank of North Dakota (BND) was charged with the mission of "promoting agriculture, commerce and industry" in North Dakota. It was never intended for BND to compete with or replace existing banks. Instead, Bank of North Dakota was created to partner with other financial institutions and assist them in meeting the needs of the citizens of North Dakota.

Meeting the needs of the citizens used to be what banks did. As small, locally owned banks were bought out by larger banks, that were bought by too-big-to-fail conglomerates, the quaint concept of meeting the needs of the citizens fell by the wayside.

Back to John Nichols and how some states are thinking about going back to meeting the needs of their citizens:

Oregon Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Bradbury is calling for the creation of a Bank of Oregon, which would keep money in the state and invest in sustainable development. "It is time to declare economic sovereignty from the multinational banks that are responsible for much of our current economic crisis," says the former State Senate president and secretary of state. "Every year we ship over a billion dollars in Oregon taxpayer dollars to out-of-state and multinational banks in the form of deposits, only to see that money invested elsewhere. It's time to put our money to work for Oregonians."

Michigan's Virg Bernero, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in that hard-hit state, is another public-banking proponent. "We can break the credit crunch and beat Wall Street at their own game by keeping our money right here in Michigan and investing it to retool our economy and create jobs," says the populist mayor of Lansing. In Illinois, Green Party gubernatorial nominee Rich Whitney, who won 10 percent of the statewide vote in 2006, proposes depositing all state tax revenues and pension contributions in a state bank. "Instead of using state funds as a means to further enrich private banks, a state-owned bank could earn additional revenue for the state while at the same time help spur economic development in Illinois," he argues.

This is a populist solution whose time may well have arrived - especially if we want to avoid what the Austin Lounge Lizards foretell:

cross posted at

1 comment:

DissedBelief said...

This is great! You are exactly right about the un-state of banking and Too Big To Fail? Hindsight now affords us the 20/20 vision of "if only we HAD let them fail"! Things are so out of control I don't see how anything can be corrected at this stage. Obama continues to disappoint by being sideswiped by Rethug and conglomerate interests. The best government money can buy.