Banking for the people
By Will Parry
The campaign to establish an Investment Trust – a state bank – in Washington State should be seen as part of a surging world-wide movement to build a parallel people’s banking system that can challenge and outperform the corrupt and profit-thirsty giants.
Banking’s future in miniature exists today in the remarkable publicly-owned Bank of North Dakota. For 92 years, the BND has ridden out recessions and depressions while serving the people and the economy of that state.
Ellen Brown, president of the Public Banking Institute, points out that North Dakota is “the only state to have escaped the credit crisis of 2008, sporting a sizable 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.”
Ignoring the overwhelming evidence, apologists for the “too big to fail” banks will contend that North Dakota is unique – that public banking won’t work elsewhere.
But public financial institutions, in one form or another, are working today, across the nation and around the world.
“Globally, 40 percent of banks are publicly owned,” Ellen Brown reports.
The scandal-ridden big banks are unloved by the masses, as was demonstrated when the grassroots “Move Your Money” campaign caught fire. Over the past year, an estimated ten million depositors have fled Bank of America and the other giants.
I myself switched from that bank to the Boeing Employees Credit Union. Lots of folks made similar moves. The Credit Union National Association reports that this year, for the first time, credit union assets rose above one trillion dollars.
“Credit unions,” Ellen Brown reminds us, “are non-profit, community-minded organizations with fewer fees and less fine print than the big risk-taking banks.”
And unlike the “too big to fail” behemoths, credit unions have never had to be bailed out by the taxpayers.
Credit unions are a major element in the big and growing co-operative movement. It’s a movement worldwide in scope. The International Co-operative Alliance numbers affiliates from nearly one hundred countries, with an aggregate membership of about one billion individuals. Co-ops employ about 100 million workers, in agriculture, fisheries, health, housing, insurance, tourism, industry – yes, and in banking.
Can the North Dakota experience be replicated here in Washington State?
Ask the people at the publicly-owned Triodos Bank, with offices in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany. Triodos “makes socially responsible investments that are selected according to strict sustainability criteria and overseen by an international panel of ‘stakeholder’ representatives from community, environmental and labor interest groups.”
That’s typical of how things have been managed in North Dakota for more than 90 years.It is not, dear friends, how Bank of America runs its shop.
Today, advocates in Washington and 17 other states are organizing to follow North Dakota’s example by making public banking a reality. We in the Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action will be in the thick of the fight.