Sunday, April 7, 2013

American Apartheid

Trapped in a Social Catastrophe

Mike Krauss
Bucks County Courier Times

The United States remains trapped in a slow moving social catastrophe.

Millions of unemployed, late middle aged Americans will never again have full-time, good paying jobs. More millions of the nation’s college educated young are unemployed or underemployed and saddled with debt. The number of children whose diet depends on food stamps is soaring. The nation’s infrastructure continues its descent to Third World status, as public education crumbles with it.

Political power flows from wealth. When wealth is concentrated, so also is political power. Wealth and political power in the United States are now so grotesquely concentrated as to threaten democracy itself.

An apartheid America is emerging: the wealthy few, served by a second tier of retainers (presidents, members of Congress, corporate media, etc), who facilitate the expropriation of what once was the greatest and most broadly shared prosperity the world had even known, as millions are reduced to poverty.

What can be done to arrest the decline?

Stop looking to Washington. Look to Main Street.

The most striking characteristic of the American people has been and remains its diversity, and the magnitude of that diversity. There is nothing to match it. If it can be enabled, that diversity will fire up the engine of American ingenuity and enterprise.

But Washington will not light that fire.

The place to enable and harness the diversity of America is in its cities, counties and states.

The key is banking.

American banking today is as concentrated and dysfunctional as Washington. Nine banks now hold 75 percent of all assets in the U.S. banking system. Yet the system fails in its most important function: the effective allocation of capital and credit into the productive economy.

The trillions of dollars pumped into the failed and bailed banks never got past Wall Street. They sit instead in the banks’ reserve accounts with the Federal Reserve, to prop up balance sheets that are more fiction than fact and make huge profits on the interest rate spread.

While American cities, schools, infrastructure and families disintegrate.

The U.S. banking system urgently needs an overhaul, and it is underway: the creation of a network of state, county and municipal “public” banks, modeled on the hugely successful Bank of North Dakota (BND).

Public banks, often referred to as “partnership” banks, are capitalized with public funds and assets, which are then leveraged as with any bank, to provide affordable and sustainable credit which is distributed into the productive economy in partnership with private, community banks.

Public banks are not retail banks (the BND has one office). They are run by professionals, paid as civil servants, receiving no mega salaries, bonuses or commissions as incentive for the kind of run-away risk taking that crashed Wall Street. Profits are reinvested in the loan portfolio or returned as non-tax revenue to the general fund of the jurisdiction that established the bank.

The BND has a current commercial loan portfolio of more than $2.9 billion and has returned an average of $30 million a year over the past decade to North Dakota taxpayers — in a state with a population of about 670,000.

Public banks eliminate the need for unproductive government “rainy day” funds, can provide disaster relief and low cost student loans, and substantially reduce debt service on municipal bonds and infrastructure projects. They do this by bidding down interest rates, or when the bank buys bonds, returning the interest paid by taxpayers to the taxpayers’ bank.

Public banks work counter-cyclically in the economy, maintaining credit flows during economic downturns, as has been amply demonstrated both in North Dakota, and nations whose economies were sustained by their public banks through the recession that devastated the U.S.

Finally, public banks can serve as the depository institutions for public funds and revenues, bringing billions of dollars back from Wall Street to Main Street, and begin to break the stranglehold the banksters have on the wealth of America.

You can learn about public banking at

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