Category Archives: public banks

Another Bank Bailout Under Cover of a Virus

Insolvent Wall Street banks have been quietly bailed out again. Banks made risk-free by the government should be public utilities.  

When the Dodd Frank Act was passed in 2010, President Obama triumphantly declared, “No more bailouts!” But what the Act actually said was that the next time the banks failed, they would be subject to “bail ins” – the funds of their creditors, including their large depositors, would be tapped to cover their bad loans.

Then bail-ins were tried in Europe. The results were disastrous.

Many economists in the US and Europe argued that the next time the banks failed, they should be nationalized – taken over by the government as public utilities. But that opportunity was lost when, in September 2019 and again in March 2020, Wall Street banks were quietly bailed out from a liquidity crisis in the repo market that could otherwise have bankrupted them. There was no bail-in of private funds, no heated congressional debate, and no public vote. It was all done unilaterally by unelected bureaucrats at the Federal Reserve.

“The justification of private profit,” said President Franklin Roosevelt in a 1938 address, “is private risk.” Banking has now been made virtually risk-free, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States and its people. The American people are therefore entitled to share in the benefits and the profits. Banking needs to be made a public utility.

The Risky Business of Borrowing Short to Lend Long

Individual banks can go bankrupt from too many bad loans, but the crises that can trigger system-wide collapse are “liquidity crises.” Banks “borrow short to lend long.” They borrow from their depositors to make long-term loans or investments while promising the depositors that they can come for their money “on demand.” To pull off this sleight of hand, when the depositors and the borrowers want the money at the same time, the banks have to borrow from somewhere else. If they can’t find lenders on short notice, or if the price of borrowing suddenly becomes prohibitive, the result is a “liquidity crisis.”

Before 1933, when the government stepped in with FDIC deposit insurance, bank panics and bank runs were common. When people suspected a bank was in trouble, they would all rush to withdraw their funds at once, exposing the fact that the banks did not have the money they purported to have. During the Great Depression, more than one-third of all private US banks were closed due to bank runs.

But President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took office in 1933, was skeptical about insuring bank deposits. He warned, “We do not wish to make the United States Government liable for the mistakes and errors of individual banks, and put a premium on unsound banking in the future.” The government had a viable public alternative, a US postal banking system established in 1911. Postal banks became especially popular during the Depression, because they were backed by the US government. But Roosevelt was pressured into signing the 1933 Banking Act, creating the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that insured private banks with public funds.

Congress, however, was unwilling to insure more than $5,000 per depositor (about $100,000 today), a sum raised temporarily in 2008 and permanently in 2010 to $250,000. That meant large institutional investors (pension funds, mutual funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds) had nowhere to park the millions of dollars they held between investments. They wanted a place to put their funds that was secure, provided them with some interest, and was liquid like a traditional deposit account, allowing quick withdrawal. They wanted the same “ironclad moneyback guarantee” provided by FDIC deposit insurance, with the ability to get their money back on demand.

It was largely in response to that need that the private repo market evolved. Repo trades, although technically “sales and repurchases” of collateral, are in effect secured short-term loans, usually repayable the next day or in two weeks. Repo replaces the security of deposit insurance with the security of highly liquid collateral, typically Treasury debt or mortgage-backed securities. Although the repo market evolved chiefly to satisfy the needs of the large institutional investors that were its chief lenders, it also served the interests of the banks, since it allowed them to get around the capital requirements imposed by regulators on the conventional banking system. Borrowing from the repo market became so popular that by 2008, it provided half the credit in the country. By 2020, this massive market had a turnover of $1 trillion a day.

Before 2008, banks also borrowed from each other in the fed funds market, allowing the Fed to manipulate interest rates by controlling the fed funds rate. But after 2008, banks were afraid to lend to each other for fear the borrowing banks might be insolvent and might not pay the loans back. Instead the lenders turned to the repo market, where loans were supposedly secured with collateral. The problem was that the collateral could be “rehypothecated,” or used for several loans at once; and by September 2019, the borrower side of the repo market had been taken over by hedge funds, which were notorious for risky rehypothecation. Many large institutional lenders therefore pulled out, driving the cost of borrowing at one point from 2% to 10%.

Rather than letting the banks fail and forcing a bail-in of private creditors’ funds, the Fed quietly stepped in and saved the banks by becoming the “repo lender of last resort.” But the liquidity crunch did not abate, and by March the Fed was making $1 trillion per day available in overnight loans. The central bank was backstopping the whole repo market, including the hedge funds, an untenable situation.

In March 2020, under cover of a national crisis, the Fed therefore flung the doors open to its discount window, where only banks could borrow. Previously, banks were reluctant to apply there because the interest was at a penalty rate and carried a stigma, signaling that the bank must be in distress. But that concern was eliminated when the Fed announced in a March 15 press release that the interest rate had been dropped to 0.25% (virtually zero). The reserve requirement was also eliminated, the capital requirement was relaxed, and all banks in good standing were offered loans of up to 90 days, “renewable on a daily basis.” The loans could be continually rolled over. And while the alleged intent was “to help meet demands for credit from households and businesses at this time,” no strings were attached to this interest-free money. There was no obligation to lend to small businesses, reduce credit card rates, or write down underwater mortgages.

The Fed’s scheme worked, and demand for repo loans plummeted. Even J.P. Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the country, has acknowledged borrowing at the Fed’s discount window for super cheap loans. But the windfall to Wall Street has not been shared with the public. In Canada, some of the biggest banks slashed their credit card interest rates in half, from 21 percent to 11 percent, to help relieve borrowers during the COVID-19 crisis. But US banks have felt no such compunction. US credit card rates dropped in April only by half a percentage point, to 20.15%. The giant Wall Street banks continue to favor their largest clients, doling out CARES Act benefits to them first, emptying the trough before many smaller businesses could drink there.

In 1969, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi nationalized 14 of India’s largest banks, not because they were bankrupt (the usual justification today) but to ensure that credit would be allocated according to planned priorities, including getting banks into rural areas and making cheap financing available to Indian farmers.  Congress could do the same today, but the odds are it won’t. As Sen. Dick Durbin said in 2009, “the banks … are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

Time for the States to Step In

State and local governments could make cheap credit available to their communities, but today they too are second class citizens when it comes to borrowing. Unlike the banks, which can borrow virtually interest-free with no strings attached, states can sell their bonds to the Fed only at market rates of 3% or 4% or more plus a penalty. Why are elected local governments, which are required to serve the public, penalized for shortfalls in their budgets caused by a mandatory shutdown, when private banks that serve private stockholders are not?

States can borrow from the federal unemployment trust fund, as California just did for $348 million, but these loans too must be paid back with interest, and they must be used to cover soaring claims for state unemployment benefits. States remain desperately short of funds to repair holes in their budgets from lost revenues and increased costs due to the shutdown.

States are excellent credit risks – far better than banks would be without the life-support of the federal government. States have a tax base, they aren’t going anywhere, they are legally required to pay their bills, and they are forbidden to file for bankruptcy. Banks are considered better credit risks than states only because their deposits are insured by the federal government and they are gifted with routine bailouts from the Fed, without which they would have collapsed decades ago.

State and local governments with a mandate to serve the public interest deserve to be treated as well as private Wall Street banks that have repeatedly been found guilty of frauds on the public. How can states get parity with the banks? If Congress won’t address that need, states can borrow interest-free at the Fed’s discount window by forming their own publicly-owned banks. For more on that possibility, see my earlier article here.

As Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, create a new model that makes the old model obsolete.” Post-COVID-19, the world will need to explore new models; and publicly-owned banks should be high on the list.

Crushing the States, Saving the Banks: The Fed’s Generous New Rules

Congress seems to be at war with the states. Only $150 billion of its nearly $3 trillion coronavirus relief package – a mere 5% – has been allocated to the 50 states; and they are not allowed to use it where they need it most, to plug the holes in their budgets caused by the mandatory shutdown. On April 22, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was opposed to additional federal aid to the states, and that his preference was to allow states to go bankrupt.

No such threat looms over the banks, which have made out extremely well in this crisis. The Federal Reserve has dropped interest rates to 0.25%, eliminated reserve requirements, and relaxed capital requirements. Banks can now borrow effectively for free, without restrictions on the money’s use. Following the playbook of the 2008-09 bailout, they can make the funds available to their Wall Street cronies to buy up distressed Main Street assets at fire sale prices, while continuing to lend to credit cardholders at 21%.

If there is a silver lining to all this, it is that the Fed’s relaxed liquidity rules have made it easier for state and local governments to set up their own publicly-owned banks, something they should do post haste to take advantage of the Fed’s very generous new accommodations for banks. These public banks can then lend to local businesses, municipal agencies, and local citizens at substantially reduced rates while replenishing the local government’s coffers, recharging the Main Street economy and the government’s revenue base.

The Covert War on the States

Payments going to state and local governments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the CARES Act may be used only for coronavirus-related expenses. They may not be used to cover expenses that were accounted for in their most recently approved budgets as of March 2020. The problem is that nearly everything local governments do is funded through their most recently approved budgets, and that funding will come up painfully short for all of the states due to increased costs and lost revenues forced by the coronavirus shutdown. Unlike the federal government, which can add a trillion dollars to the federal debt every year without fear of retribution, states and cities are required to balance their budgets. The Fed has opened a Municipal Liquidity Facility that may buy their municipal bonds, but this is still short-term debt, which must be repaid when due. Selling bonds will not fend off bankruptcy for states and cities that must balance their books.

States are not legally allowed to declare bankruptcy, but Sen. McConnell contended that “there’s no good reason for it not to be available.” He said, “we’ll certainly insist that anything we borrow to send down to the states is not spent on solving problems that they created for themselves over the years with their pension programs.” And that is evidently the real motive behind the bankruptcy push. McConnell wants states put through a bankruptcy reorganization to get rid of all those pesky pension agreements and the unions that negotiated them. But these are the safety nets against old age for which teachers, nurses, police and firefighters have worked for 30 or 40 years. It’s their money.

It has long been a goal of conservatives to privatize public pensions, forcing seniors into the riskier stock market. Lured in by market booms, their savings can then be raided by the periodic busts of the “business cycle,” while the more savvy insiders collect the spoils. Today political opportunists are using a crushing emergency that is devastating local economies to downsize the public sector and privatize everything.

Free Money for Banks: The Fed’s Very Liberal New Rules

Unlike the states, the banks were not facing bankruptcy from the economic shutdown; but their stocks were sinking fast. The Fed’s accommodations were said to be to encourage banks to “help meet demand for credit from households and businesses.” But while the banks’ own borrowing rates were dropped on March 15 from an already-low 1.5% to 0.25%, average credit card rates dropped in the following month only by 0.5% to 20.71%, still unconscionably high for out-of-work wage earners.

Although the Fed’s accommodations were allegedly to serve Main Street during the shutdown, Wall Street had a serious liquidity problem long before the pandemic hit. Troubles surfaced in September 2019, when repo market rates suddenly shot up to 10%. Before 2008, banks borrowed from each other in the fed funds market; but after 2008 they were afraid to lend to each other for fear the borrowing banks might be insolvent and might not pay the loans back. Instead the lenders turned to the repo market, where loans were supposedly secured with collateral. The problem was that the collateral could be “rehypothecated” or used for several loans at once; and by September 2019, the borrower side of the repo market had been taken over by hedge funds, which were notorious for risky rehypothecation. The lenders therefore again pulled out, forcing the Fed to step in to save the banks that are its true constituents. But that meant the Fed was backstopping the whole repo market, including the hedge funds, an untenable situation. So it flung the doors wide open to its discount window, where only banks could borrow.

The discount window is the Fed’s direct lending facility meant to help commercial banks manage short-term liquidity needs. In the past, banks have been reluctant to borrow there because its higher interest rate implied that the bank was on shaky ground and that no one else would lend to it. But the Fed has now eliminated that barrier. It said in a press release on March 15:

The Federal Reserve encourages depository institutions to turn to the discount window to help meet demands for credit from households and businesses at this time. In support of this goal, the Board today announced that it will lower the primary credit rate by 150 basis points to 0.25% …. To further enhance the role of the discount window as a tool for banks in addressing potential funding pressures, the Board also today announced that depository institutions may borrow from the discount window for periods as long as 90 days, prepayable and renewable by the borrower on a daily basis.

Banks can get virtually free loans from the discount window that can be rolled over from day to day as necessary. The press release said that the Fed had also eliminated the reserve requirement – the requirement that banks retain reserves equal to 10% of their deposits – and that it is “encouraging banks to use their capital and liquidity buffers as they lend to households and businesses who are affected by the coronavirus.” It seems that banks no longer need to worry about having deposits sufficient to back their loans. They can just borrow the needed liquidity at 0.25%, “renewable on a daily basis.” They don’t need to worry about “liquidity mismatches,” where they have borrowed short to lend long and the depositors have suddenly come for their money, leaving them without the funds to cover their loans. The Fed now has their backs, providing “primary credit” at its discount window to all banks in good standing on very easy terms. The Fed’s website states:

Generally, there are no restrictions on borrowers’ use of primary credit….Notably, eligible depository institutions may obtain primary credit without exhausting or even seeking funds from alternative sources. Minimal administration of and restrictions on the use of primary credit makes it a reliable funding source.

What State and Local Governments Can Do: Form Their Own Banks

On the positive side, these new easy terms make it much easier for local governments to own and operate their own banks, on the stellar model of the century-old Bank of North Dakota. To fast-track the process, a state could buy a bank that was for sale locally, which would already have FDIC insurance and a master account with the central bank (something needed to conduct business with other banks and the Fed). The state could then move its existing revenues and those it gets from the CARES Act Relief Fund into the bank as deposits. Since there is no longer a deposit requirement, it need not worry if these revenues get withdrawn and spent. Any shortfall can be covered by borrowing at 0.25% from the Fed’s discount window. The bank would need to make prudent loans to keep its books in balance, but if its capital base gets depleted from a few non-performing loans, that too apparently need not be a problem, since the Fed is “encouraging banks to use their capital and liquidity buffers.” The buffers were there for an emergency, said the Fed, and this is that emergency.

To cover startup costs and capitalization, the state might be able to use a portion of its CARES Relief Fund allotment. Its budget before March would not have included a public bank, which could serve as a critical source of funding for local businesses crushed by the shutdown and passed over by the bailout. Among the examples given of allowable uses for the relief funds are such things as “expenditures related to the provision of grants to small businesses to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures.” Providing below-market loans to small businesses would fall in that general category.

By using some of its CARES Act funds to capitalize a bank, the local government can leverage the money by 10 to 1. One hundred million dollars in equity can capitalize $1 billion in loans. With the state bank’s own borrowing costs effectively at 0%, its operating costs will be very low. It can make below-market loans to creditworthy local borrowers while still turning a profit, which can be used either to build up the bank’s capital base for more loans or to supplement the state’s revenues. The bank can also lend to its own government agencies that are short of funds due to the mandatory shutdown. The salubrious effect will be to jumpstart the local economy by putting new money into it. People can be put back to work, local infrastructure can be restored and expanded, and the local tax base can be replenished.

The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated not only that the US needs to free itself from dependence on foreign markets by rebuilding its manufacturing base but that state and local governments need to free themselves from dependence on the federal government. Some state economies are larger than those of entire countries. Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose state ranks as the world’s fifth largest economy, has called California a “nation-state.” A sovereign nation-state needs its own bank.

Was the Fed Just Nationalized?

Did Congress just nationalize the Fed? No. But the door to that result has been cracked open.

Mainstream politicians have long insisted that Medicare for all, a universal basic income, student debt relief and a slew of other much-needed public programs are off the table because the federal government cannot afford them. But that was before Wall Street and the stock market were driven onto life-support by a virus. Congress has now suddenly discovered the magic money tree. It took only a few days for Congress to unanimously pass the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which will be doling out $2.2 trillion in crisis relief, most of it going to Corporate America with few strings attached. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve is making over $4 trillion available to banks, hedge funds and other financial entities of all stripes; it has dropped the fed funds rate (the rate at which banks borrow from each other) effectively to zero; and it has made $1.5 trillion available to the repo market.

It is also the Federal Reserve that will be picking up the tab for this bonanza, at least to start. The US central bank has opened the sluice gates to unlimited quantitative easing, buying Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities “in the amounts needed to support smooth market functions.” Last month, the Fed bought $650 billion worth of federal securities. At that rate, notes Wall Street on Parade, it will own the entire Treasury market in about 22 months. As Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari acknowledged on 60 Minutes, “There is an infinite amount of cash at the Federal Reserve.”

In theory, quantitative easing is just a temporary measure, reversible by selling bonds back into the market when the economy gets back on its feet. But in practice, we have seen that QE is a one-way street. When central banks have tried to reverse it with “quantitative tightening,” economies have shrunk and stock markets have plunged. So the Fed is likely to just keep rolling over the bonds, which is what normally happens anyway with the federal debt. The debt is never actually paid off but is just rolled over from year to year. Only the interest must be paid, to the tune of $575 billion in 2019. The benefit of having the Fed rather than private bondholders hold the bonds is that the Fed rebates its profits to the Treasury after deducting its costs, making the loans virtually interest-free. Interest-free loans rolled over indefinitely are in effect free money. The Fed is “monetizing” the debt.

What will individuals, families, communities and state and local governments be getting out of this massive bailout? Not much. Qualifying individuals will get a very modest one-time payment of $1,200, and unemployment benefits have been extended for the next four months. For local governments, $150 billion has been allocated for crisis relief, and one of the Fed’s newly expanded Special Purpose Vehicles will buy municipal bonds. But there is no provision for reducing the interest rate on the bonds, which typically runs at 3 or 4 percent plus hefty bond dealer fees and foregone taxes on tax-free issues. Unlike the federal government, municipal governments will not be getting a rebate on the interest on their bonds.

The taxpayers have obviously been shortchanged in this deal. David Dayen calls it “a robbery in progress.” But there have been some promising developments that could be harnessed for the benefit of the people. The Fed has evidently abandoned its vaunted “independence” and is now working in partnership with the Treasury. In some sense, it has been nationalized. A true partnership, however, would make the printing press available for more than just buying toxic corporate assets. A central bank that was run as a public utility could fund programs designed to kick-start the economy, stimulate productivity and generally serve the public.

Harnessing the Central Bank

The reason the Fed is now working with the Treasury is that it needs the Treasury to help it bail out a financial industry burdened with an avalanche of dodgy assets that are fast losing value. The problem for the Fed is that it is only allowed to purchase or lend against securities with government guarantees, including Treasury securities, agency mortgage-backed securities, debt issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and (arguably) municipal securities. To get around that wrinkle, as Wolf Richter explains:

[T]he Treasury will create (or resuscitate) a series of special-purpose vehicles (SPVs) to buy all manner of financial assets, backed by $425 billion in collateral conveniently supplied by the US taxpayer via the Exchange Stabilization Fund. The Fed will lend to SPVs against this collateral which, when leveraged, could fund $4-5 trillion in asset purchases.

That includes municipal bonds, non-agency mortgages, corporate bonds, commercial paper, and every variety of asset-backed security. The only things the government can’t (transparently, yet) buy are publicly-traded stocks and high-yield bonds.

Unlike in QE, in which the Fed moves assets onto its own balance sheet, the Treasury will now be buying assets and backstopping loans through SPVs that the Treasury will own and control. SPVs are a form of shadow bank, which like all banks create money by “monetizing” debt or turning it into something that can be spent in the marketplace. The SPV decides what assets to buy and borrows from the central bank to do it. The central bank then passively creates the funds, which are used to purchase the assets backing the loan. As Jim Bianco wrote on Bloomberg:

In other words, the federal government is nationalizing large swaths of the financial markets. The Fed is providing the money to do it. BlackRock will be doing the trades. This scheme essentially merges the Fed and Treasury into one organization. …

In effect, the Fed is giving the Treasury access to its printing press. This means that, in the extreme, the administration would be free to use its control, not the Fed’s control, of these SPVs to instruct the Fed to print more money so it could buy securities and hand out loans in an effort to ramp financial markets higher going into the election.

Of the designated SPVs, none currently serves a public purpose beyond buoying the markets; but they could be designed for such purposes. The taxpayers are on the hook for replenishing the $425 billion in the Exchange Stabilization Fund, and they should be entitled to share in the benefits. Congress could designate a Special Purpose Vehicle to fund its infrastructure projects, and to fund those much-needed public services including Medicare for all, a universal basic income, student debt relief, and similar programs. It could also purchase a controlling interest in insolvent or profligate banks, pharmaceutical companies, oil companies and other offenders and regulate them in a way that serves the public interest.

Another possibility would be for Congress to fund these programs in the usual way by issuing government bonds, but to enter into a partnership agreement first by which the central bank would buy the bonds, roll them over indefinitely, and rebate the interest to the Treasury. That is how Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has funded his stimulus programs, with none of the predicted inflationary effects on consumer prices. In fact, the Japanese consumer price index is hovering at a very low 0.4%, well below even the central bank’s 2 percent target, although the Bank of Japan has monetized nearly half of the government’s debt. Half of the US debt would be over $11 trillion. Assuming $6 trillion for the current corporate bailouts, that means another $5 trillion could safely be monetized for programs benefiting individuals, families and local governments. (How to do this without driving up consumer prices will be the subject of another article.)

Relief for State and Local Governments

State and local governments, which are on the front lines for delivering emergency services, have for the most part been left out of the bailout bonanza. While we are waiting for action from Congress, the Fed could make cheap loans available to local governments using its existing powers under Federal Reserve Act Sec. 14(2)(b), which authorizes the Fed to purchase the bills, bonds, and notes of state and local governments having maturities of six months or less. Since local governments must balance their budgets, these loans would have to be repaid, but the loans could be extended by rolling them over for a reasonable period, as is done with repo loans and the federal debt; and the loans could be made at the same near-zero interest rate banks can borrow at now. State and local governments are at least as creditworthy as banks – they have a taxpayer base and massive assets. In fact, the private banking industry would have been insolvent long ago if it were not for the deep pocket of the central bank and the bailouts of the federal government, including the FDIC insurance scheme that rescued the banks from bankruptcy in the Great Depression.

There is a way state and local governments can take advantage of the near-zero interest rates available to banks even without federal action. They can set up their own publicly-owned banks. Besides giving them the ability to borrow much more cheaply, having their own banks would allow them to leverage their loan funds. A $100 million revolving fund issuing loans at 3% would gross the state $3 million per year. If that same $100 million were used to capitalize a bank, it could issue ten times that sum in loans, grossing $30 million per year. Costs would need to be deducted from those earnings, including the cost of funds; but the cost of funds is quite low for banks today. They can borrow to meet their liquidity needs from their own deposit pool, or at 0.25% in the fed funds market, or at about the same rate in the repo market, which is now backstopped by the central bank.

The blatant disparities in the congressional response to the current crisis have shone a bright light on how our financial system is rigged against the people in favor of a wealthy elite. Crisis is when change happens; this is the time for advocates to unite in demanding change on behalf of the people. As Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis admonished in a recent post:

[T]his new phase of the crisis is, at the very least, making it clear to us that anything goes – that everything is now possible.… Whether the epidemic helps deliver the good or the most evil society will depend … on whether progressives manage to band together. For if we do not, just like in 2008 we did not, the bankers, the spivs [petty criminals], the oligarchs and the neofascists will prove, again, that they are the ones who know how not to let a good crisis go to waste.

The Decade Of Transformation Is Here: Remaking The Economy For The People

The pandemic, economic collapse and the government’s response to them are going to not only determine the 2020 election but define the future for this decade and beyond. People are seeing the failure of the US healthcare nonsystem and the economy. The government was able to provide trillions for big business and Wall Street without asking the usual, “Where will we get the money?” However, the rescue bill recently passed by Congress provides a fraction of what most people need to get through this period. Once again, a pandemic will reshape the course of history.

Last week, we wrote about the failings of the healthcare system and the need for a universal, publicly-funded system. This week, we focus on the need to change the US economic system. The economic crisis in the United States is breaking all records. The class war that has existed for decades is being magnified and sharpened. The failings of financialized, neoliberal capitalism is being brought into focus at a time when people in the United States have greater support for socializing the economy than in recent times.

This Thursday, there was a record 3.3 million applications for unemployment, an increase of three million from the previous week, but on the same day, there was a record rise in the stock market. This contradiction shows the divide between the economic insecurity of the people and investors profiting from the crisis. The 11.4 percent increase in the stock market on Thursday was the largest increase since 1933 while the record rise in unemployment was 40 percent higher than ever recorded. Projections are for 30 percent unemployment this quarter, which is five percent higher than the worst of the Great Depression.

The response to the economic crisis reveals who the government represents. While people’s economic insecurity grew, the government acted to primarily benefit the wealthiest. This realization should spur an uprising like the United States has never seen before. Perhaps the most dangerous to the ruling class is their incompetence has been exposed. As Glen Ford writes, “The capitalist ‘crisis of legitimacy’ may have passed the point of no return, as the Corporate State proves daily that it cannot perform the basic function of protecting the lives of its citizens.”

Disaster Aid: Crumbs For The People, Trillions For The Wealthiest

Congress unanimously passed a $1.6 trillion coronavirus disaster aid bill this week. This is almost equal to the 2009 Recovery Act and the 2008 Wall Street rescue combined. Democrat’s votes were essential to passing the bill so they could have demanded whatever they wanted. This bill shows the bi-partisan priority for big business.

The bill is too little too late for people who have lost their jobs and for small businesses that have been forced to close. The law includes a one-time $1,200 payment to most people. This payment will arrive after rent and other debt payments are due for a US population with record debt. Congress does not understand the economic realities of people in the United States. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz explained what was needed saying, “The answer is we need no evictions, no foreclosures on all properties, and the government should guarantee pay.” In addition, credit card companies should also put “a stay on interest on all debt.”

When COVID-19 first began, we pointed out that the US healthcare system was not prepared to respond and showed the problems of putting profits before health. The COVID-19 rescue bill did not pay for coronavirus testing or treatment. Millions of people who lose their jobs will lose their health insurance, demonstrating why healthcare should not be tied to employment. Adding to health problems, the law did not increase the SNAP food program for the poor.

Roughly one-third of the funding goes to direct payments to people, unemployment insurance for four months, hospitals, veterans’ care, and public transit. Two-thirds go to government and corporations. Adam Levitin describes the law as “robbing taxpayers to bail out the rich.”

Congress allotted at least $454 billion to support big business in addition to $46 billion for specific industries, especially airlines. Some of these funds will also bail out the fossil fuel industry. According to the way the Federal Reserve operates, they will be allowed to spend ten times the amount Congress allocated to support big business, $4.5 trillion. Jack Rasmus writes that the Federal Reserve had already “allocated no less than $6.2 Trillion so far to bail out the banks and investors.” He summarizes the disparity: “Meanwhile Congress provides one-fourth that, and only one-third of that one fourth, for the Main St., workers, and middle-class families.”

Trump shows the disdain government has for the people and its favoritism for big business and investors as he objected to paying for 80,000 life-saving ventilators because they cost $1 billion while the government provides trillions to big business and investors. Governors and hospitals are issuing dire warnings of what is to come, but the federal government is not listening.

Economic Collapse Shows The Need For Transformational Change

The economic collapse is still unfolding. The US is already in a deep recession that is likely to be worse than the 2008 financial crisis and could develop into a greater depression if the COVID-19 economic shutdown lasts a long time.

Already, the crises, the government’s support for Wall Street and its failure to protect the 99% are creating louder demands for system change. We need to put forward a bold agenda and agitate around it to demand economic security for all. As Margaret Kimberly writes, we are entering a period of revolutionary change because we know returning to normal is “the opposite of what we need.” Or as Vijay Prashad says, “Normal was the problem.”

While the urgent health and economic crises dominate, the climate crisis also continues. The climate crisis already required replacing the fossil fuel era with a clean and sustainable energy economy and remaking multiple sectors of the economy such as construction, transportation, agriculture, and infrastructure. Now, out of these crises, a new sustainable economic democracy can be born where people control finance, inequality is minimized and workers are empowered, along with creating public programs that meet the necessities of the people and protect the planet.

The US Constitution gives the government the power to create money; Article I, Section 8 says: “The Congress shall have power … to coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin.” Congress needs to take back that power so the government can create debt-free money. Currently, the Federal Reserve, which was created by Congress in 1913, is the privately-owned US central bank that produces money and sets interest rates. It puts the interests of the big banks first. The Fed can be altered, nationalized or even dismantled by Congress. Its functions could be put into the Department of the Treasury.

Monetary actions need to be transparent and designed to serve the necessities of the people and the planet. Money should be spent by the government into the economy to meet those needs while preventing inflation and deflation. In this way, the government would have the funds needed to transform to a green energy economy, rebuild infrastructure, provide education from pre-school through college without tuition, create the healthcare infrastructure we need for universal healthcare and more.  In addition, through a network of state and local public banks, people would be able to get cost-only mortgages and loans to meet their needs.

Moving money creation into the federal government would place it within the constitutional system of checks and balances where the people have a voice to ensure it works for the whole society, not only for the bankers and the privileged. This could end the parasitic private banking system and replace it with a democratic public system designed for the people’s needs as Mexico is doing.

Globalization must be reconsidered. Corporate globalization with trade agreements that favor corporate power is a root cause of this global pandemic. We need trade that puts people and the planet first and encourages local production of goods. This includes remaking agriculture to support smaller farms and urban farming using organic and regenerative techniques that increase the nutritional value of foods and sequester carbon.

What we need instead is popular globalization – developing solidarity and reciprocity between people around the world. We can learn from each other, collaborate and provide mutual aid in times of crisis as Cuba and other countries are doing now.

As businesses are bailed out by the government, they could be required to protect and empower workers. Workers’ rights have been shrinking since the 1950s as unions have become smaller and more allied with business interests. The right to collective bargaining needs to be included as a requirement for receiving government funds. For large public corporations, workers should be given a board seat, indeed the government should be given a board seat and an equity share in any corporation that is bailed out. For smaller businesses, as they reopen, it is an opportunity to restructure so worker ownership and workers sharing in the profits become the norm.

The US needs to build the economy from the bottom up. The era of trickle-down economics that has existed since the early 80s has failed most people in the United States. The government needs to create a full-employment economy with the government as the employer of last resort. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives US infrastructure a grade of D+ requiring a $2 trillion dollar investment that would create millions of jobs. The Green New Deal would create 30 million jobs over ten years according to the detailed plan put forward by the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins.

The coronavirus disaster aid includes a payment to every person in the US earning under $70,000. While the one-time $1,200 check is grossly insufficient, it demonstrates the possibility of a universal basic income. This would lift people out of poverty and protect them from the coming age of robots and artificial intelligence that will impact millions of existing jobs. The evidence is growing that a basic income works. A World Bank analysis of 19 studies found that cash transfers have been demonstrated to improve education and health outcomes and alleviate poverty

The United States economy is in a debt crisis that demands quantitative easing for the people. Personal, corporate and government debt is at a record high. While the economic collapse is being blamed on the coronavirus, the reality is that the pandemic was a trigger that led to a recession that was already coming. The US needs to correct those fundamentals — massive debt, a wealth divide, inadequate income, poverty — as part of restarting the economy. Just as the Fed has bought debts to relieve businesses of debt burden, it can do the same for the personal debts of people. We should start by ending the crisis of student debt, which is preventing two generations from participating in the economy. While we make post-high school vocational and college education tuition-free, we should not leave behind the generations suffering from high-priced education.

Rise-Up and Demand Change

To create change, people must demand it. Even before the coronavirus collapse, people were demanding an end to inequality, worker rights, climate justice, and improved Medicare for all, among other issues. In the last two years, the United States has seen record numbers of striking workers. The climate movement is blocking pipelines and infrastructure and shutting down cities. Protests against inequality and debt resistance have existed since the occupy movement.

Now, with the economic collapse, protests are increasing. It’s Going Down reports: “with millions of people now wondering how they are going to make ends meet and pay rent, let alone survive the current epidemic, a new wave of struggles is breaking out across the social terrain. Prisoners and detention center detainees are launching hunger strikes as those on the outside demand that they be released, tenants are currently pushing for a rent strike starting on April 1st, the houseless are taking over vacant homes in Los Angeles, and workers have launched a series of wildcat strikers, sick-outs, and job actions in response to being forced onto the front lines of the pandemic like lambs to the slaughter.”

Workers at the Fiat Chrysler Windsor Assembly Plant walked off the job over concerns about the spread of coronavirus. Pittsburgh garbage collectors refused to pick up trash because their health was not being protected. Chipotle employees walked off the job and publicly protested the company for allegedly penalizing workers who call in sick. Perdue employees in Georgia walked off their jobs on a production line over a wage dispute and management asked workers to put in extra hours without a pay increase during the pandemic. Some Whole Foods workers announced a collective action in the form of a “sick out,” with workers using their sick days in order to strike. In Italy, wildcat strikes erupted to demand that plants be closed for the duration of the virus. Postal workers in London took strike actions due to the risks of the virus.

The pandemic requires creativity in protest. Technology allows us to educate and organize online, as well as to protest, petition, email, and call. There have also been car marches, public transport drivers have refused to monitor tickets, collective messages have been sent from balconies and windows. People are showing they can be innovative to get our message across to decision-makers. We can also build community and strengthen bonds with mutual aid.

If the ownership class continues its call to re-open the economy despite the health risks, the potential of a general strike can become a reality. When Trump called for returning to work the hashtags #GeneralStrike and #GeneralStrike2020— calling on workers everywhere to walk off the job — began trending on Twitter. Rather than a strike against one corporation, people would strike across multiple businesses and could also include a rent and mortgage strike as well as a debt strike. The coronavirus has shown that essential workers are among the lowest-paid workers and that they make the economy function. We also understand that if people refuse to pay their debts or rent, the financial system will collapse. Understanding those realities gives a new understanding of the power of the people.

A general strike, as Rosa Luxembourg described it in 1906, is not ‘one isolated action” but a rallying call for a campaign of “class struggle lasting for years, perhaps for decades.” A general strike could take many forms, including a global day of action. Before the current crises, we saw the decade of the 2020s as a decade of potential transformational change because on multiple fronts movements were growing and demanding responses to an array of crises. Now, the triggers for the economic collapse could also be the trigger for transformational revolt.

We are all in this together. We are all connected and share a common humanity. If we act in solidarity during this time of crisis and in this decade of transformation, we can create the future we want to see for ourselves and future generations.

Socialism at Its Finest after Fed’s Bazooka Fails

In what is being called the worst financial crisis since 1929, the US stock market has lost a third of its value in the space of a month, wiping out all of its gains of the last three years. When the Federal Reserve tried to ride to the rescue, it only succeeded in making matters worse. The government then pulled out all the stops. To our staunchly capitalist leaders, socialism is suddenly looking good.  

The financial crisis began in late February, when the World Health Organization announced that it was time to prepare for a global pandemic. The Russia-Saudi oil price war added fuel to the flames, causing all three Wall Street indices to fall more than 7 percent on March 9. It was called Black Monday, the worst drop since the Great Recession in 2008; but it would get worse. 

On March 12, the Fed announced new capital injections totaling an unprecedented $1.5 trillion in the repo market, where banks now borrow to stay afloat. The market responded by driving stocks 8% lower.

On Sunday, March 15, the Fed emptied its bazooka by lowering the fed funds rate nearly to zero and announcing that it would be purchasing $700 billion in assets, including federal securities of all maturities, restarting its quantitative easing program. It also eliminated bank reserve requirements and slashed Interest on Excess Reserves (the interest it pays to banks for parking their cash at the Fed) to 0.10%. The result was to cause the stock market to open on Monday nearly 10% lower. Rather than projecting confidence, the Fed’s measures were generating panic.

As financial analyst George Gammon observes, the Fed’s massive $1.5 trillion in expanded repo operations had few takers. Why? He says the shortage in the repo market was not in “liquidity” (money available to lend) but in “pristine collateral” (the securities that must be put up for the loans). Pristine collateral consists mainly of short-term Treasury bills. The Fed can inject as much liquidity as it likes, but it cannot create T-bills, something only the Treasury can do. That means the government (which is already $23 trillion in debt) must add yet more debt to its balance sheet in order to rescue the repo market that now funds the banks.

The Fed’s tools alone are obviously incapable of stemming the bloodletting from the forced shutdown of businesses across the country. Fed chair Jerome Powell admitted as much at his March 15 press conference, stating, “[W]e don’t have the tools to reach individuals and particularly small businesses and other businesses and people who may be out of work …. We do think fiscal response is critical.” “Fiscal policy” means the administration and Congress must step up to the plate.

What about using the Fed’s “nuclear option” – a “helicopter drop” of money to support people directly? A March 16 article in Axios quoted former Fed senior economist Claudia Sahm:

The political ramifications of the Fed essentially printing money and giving it to people – there are ways to do it, but the problem is if the Fed does this and Congress still has not passed anything … that would mean the Fed has stepped in and done something that Congress didn’t want to do. If they did helicopter money without congressional approval, Congress could, and rightly so, end the Fed.

The government must act first, before the Fed can use its money-printing machine to benefit the people and the economy directly.

The Fed, Congress and the Administration Need to Work as a Team 

On March 13, President Trump did act, declaring a national emergency that opened access to as much as $50 billion “for states and territories and localities in our shared fight against this disease.” The Dow Jones Industrial Average responded by ending the day up nearly 2,000 points, or 9.4 percent.

The same day, Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard proposed a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for every American for the duration of the crisis. She said, “Too much attention has been focused here in Washington on bailing out Wall Street banks and corporate industries as people are making the same old tired argument of how trickle-down economics will eventually help the American people.” Meanwhile the American taxpayer “gets left holding the bag, struggling and getting no help during a time of crisis.” H.R. 897, her bill for an emergency UBI, she said was the most simple, direct form of assistance to help weather the storm.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who made a universal basic income the basis of his platform, would go further and continue the monthly payments after the coronavirus threat was over.

CNBC financial analyst Jim Cramer also had expansive ideas. He said on March 12:

How about a $500 billion Treasury issue … [at] almost no interest cost, to make sure that when people are sick they don’t have to go to work, and companies that are in trouble because of that can still make their payroll. How about a credit line backstopped by … the Federal Reserve. I know the Federal Reserve is going to say they can’t do that, Congress is going to say they can’t do that, everyone is going to say what they said in 2007, they can’t do that, they can’t do that — until they did it. … [W]e heard all that in 2007 and they ended up doing everything.

And that looks like what will happen this time around. On March 18, as the stock market continued to plummet, the administration released an outline for a $1 trillion stimulus bill, including $500 billion in direct payments to Americans, along with bailouts and loans for the airline industry, small businesses, and other “critical” sectors of the U.S. economy.

But the details needed to be hammered out, and even that whopping package buoyed the markets only briefly. In the bond market, yields shot up and values went down, on fears that the flood of government bonds needed to finance this giant stimulus would cause bond values to plummet and the government’s funding costs to shoot up.

Extraordinary Measures for Extraordinary Times

There is a way around that problem. To avoid driving the federal debt into the stratosphere, the Treasury could borrow directly from the central bank interest-free, with an agreement that the debt would remain on the Fed’s books indefinitely. That approach has been tested in Japan, where it has not generated price inflation as austerity hawks have insisted it would. The Bank of Japan has purchased nearly 50 percent of the government’s debt, yet consumer price inflation remains below the BOJ’s 2 percent target.

Virtually all money today is simply “monetized” debt – debt turned by banks into something that can be spent in the marketplace – and the ultimate backstop for this sleight of hand is the central bank and the government, which means the taxpayers. To equalize our very unequal system, the central bank and the government need to work together. The Fed needs to be “de-privatized” – turned into a public utility that serves the taxpayers and the economy. As Eric Striker observed in The Unz Review on March 13:

The US government’s lack of direct control over the nation’s central bank and the plutocratic nature of our weak state means that common sense solutions are off the table. Why doesn’t the state buy up majority shares in large corporations (or outright nationalize them, as happened with the short successful experiment with General Motors in 2009) and use the $1.5 trillion at low interest to develop American industrial independence?

Interestingly, that too could be on the table in these extraordinary times. Bloomberg reported on March 19 that Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economic adviser, says the administration may ask for an equity stake (an ownership interest) in corporations that want coronavirus aid from taxpayers. Kudlow noted that when this was done with General Motors in 2008, it turned out to be a good deal for the federal government.

While traditionally considered “anti-capitalist,” the government taking an ownership interest in bailed out companies may be the only way the proposed bailouts will get approval. There is little sentiment today for the sort of no-strings-attached “socialism for the rich” that the taxpayers shouldered in 2008 without reaping the benefits. Bloomberg quotes Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive officer at DoubleLine Capital:

I don’t think government bailouts of over-leveraged companies that got over-leveraged by share buybacks at all-time highs, enriching executives and hedge fund investors, will sit well with the American people.

The Bloomberg article concludes with a quote from another chief investment officer, Chris Zaccarelli of Independent Advisor Alliance:

I like how [the administration is] thinking a little bit outside of the box. Something big and bold like that could potentially be what turns the market around ….

Long-term Solutions

Rather than just a stake in the profits, the government could think a bit further outside the box and turn insolvent airlines, oil companies, and banks into public utilities. It could require them to serve the people and the economy rather than just maximizing the short-term profits of their shareholders.

Concerning the banks, the Fed could do as the People’s Bank of China is doing in this crisis. The state-run PBoC is giving regional banks $79 billion in stimulus money, but it is on condition that they lend it to small and medium enterprises and forgive late payments, so that economic damage is reversed and production can recover quickly.

Another model worth studying is that of Germany, which also has a strong public banking system. As part of a package for coronavirus aid that the German finance minister calls its “big bazooka,” the government is offering immediate access to loans up to €500,000 for small businesses through its public bank, the KfW (Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau), administered through the publicly-owned Sparkassen and other local banks. The loans are being made available at an interest rate as low as 1%, with interest only for the first two years.

Contrast that to the aid package President Trump announced last week, which will authorize the Small Business Administration to offer business loans. After a lengthy process of approval by state authorities, the loans can be obtained at an interest rate of 3.75% – nearly 4 times the KfW rate. German and Chinese public banks are able to offer rock-bottom interest rates because they have cut out private middlemen and are not driven by the insatiable demand for shareholder profits. They can lend countercyclically to avoid booms and busts while supporting the economy as a whole.

The U.S., too, could create a network of publicly-owned banks backed by the central bank, which could lend into their communities at below-market rates. And this is the time to do it. Times of crisis are when change happens. When the Covid-19 scare has passed, we will have a different government, a different economy and a different financial system. We need to make sure that what we get is an upgrade that works for everyone.

Desperate Central Bankers Grab for More Power

Conceding that their grip on the economy is slipping, central bankers are proposing a radical economic reset that would shift yet more power from government to themselves.

Central bankers are acknowledging that they are out of ammunition. Mark Carney, the soon-to-be-retiring head of the Bank of England, said in a speech at the annual meeting of central bankers in August in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, “In the longer-term, we need to change the game.” The same point was made by Philipp Hildebrand, former head of the Swiss National Bank, in an August 2019 interview with Bloomberg. “Really there is little if any ammunition left,” he said. “More of the same in terms of monetary policy is unlikely to be an appropriate response if we get into a recession or sharp downturn.”

“More of the same” meant further lowering interest rates, the central bankers’ stock tool for maintaining their targeted inflation rate in a downturn. Bargain-basement interest rates are supposed to stimulate the economy by encouraging borrowers to borrow (since rates are so low) and savers to spend (since they aren’t making any interest on their deposits and may have to pay to store them). But over $15 trillion in bonds are now trading globally at negative interest rates, yet this radical maneuver has not been shown to measurably improve economic performance. In fact  new research shows that negative interest rates from central banks, rather than increasing spending, stopping deflation, and stimulating the economy as they were expected to do, may be having the opposite effects. They are being blamed for squeezing banks, punishing savers, keeping dying companies on life support, and fueling a potentially unsustainable surge in asset prices.

So what is a central banker to do? Hildebrand’s proposed solution was presented in a paper he wrote with three of his colleagues at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, where he is now vice chairman. Released in August to coincide with the annual Jackson Hole meeting of central bankers, the paper was co-authored by Stanley Fischer, former governor of the Bank of Israel and former vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve; Jean Boivin, former deputy governor of the Bank of Canada; and BlackRock economist Elga Bartsch. Their proposal calls for “more explicit coordination between central banks and governments when economies are in a recession so that monetary and fiscal policy can better work in synergy.” The goal, according to Hildebrand, is to go “direct with money to consumers and companies in order to enliven consumption,” putting spending money directly into consumers’ pockets.

It sounds a lot like “helicopter money,” but he was not actually talking about raining money down on the people. The central bank would maintain a “Standing Emergency Fiscal Facility” that would be activated when interest rate manipulation was no longer working and deflation had set in. The central bank would determine the size of the Facility based on its estimates of what was needed to get the price level back on target. It sounds good until you get to who would disburse the funds: “Independent experts would decide how best to deploy the funds to both maximize impact and meet strategic investment objectives set by the government.”

“Independent experts” is another term for “technocrats” – bureaucrats chosen for their technical skill rather than by popular vote. They might be using sophisticated data, algorithms and economic formulae to determine “how best to deploy the funds,” but the question is, “best for whom?” It was central bank technocrats who plunged the economies of Greece and Italy into austerity after 2011, and unelected technocrats who put Detroit into bankruptcy in 2013.

In short, Hildebrand and co-authors are not talking about central banks giving up their ivory tower independence to work with legislators in coordinating fiscal and monetary policy. Rather, central bankers would be acquiring even more power, by giving themselves a new pot of free money that they could deploy as they saw fit in the service of “government objectives.”

Carney’s New Game

The tendency to overreach was also evident in the Jackson Hole speech of BOE head Mark Carney, in which he said “we need to change the game.” The game changer he proposed was to break the power of the US dollar as global reserve currency. This would be done through the issuance of an international digital currency backed by multiple national currencies, on the model of Facebook’s “Libra.”

Multiple reserve currencies are not a bad idea, but if we’re following the Libra model, we’re talking about a new, single reserve currency that is merely “backed” by a basket of other currencies. The question then is who would issue this global currency, and who would set the rules for obtaining the reserves.

Carney suggested that the new currency might be “best provided by the public sector, perhaps through a network of central bank digital currencies.” This raises further questions. Are central banks really “public”? And who would be the issuer – the banker-controlled Bank for International Settlements, the bank of central banks in Switzerland? Or perhaps the International Monetary Fund, which Carney is in line to head?

The IMF already issues Special Drawing Rights to supplement global currency reserves, but they are merely “units of account” which must be exchanged for national currencies. Allowing the IMF to issue the global reserve currency outright would give unelected technocrats unprecedented power over nations and their money. The effect would be similar to the surrender by EU governments of control over their own currencies, making their central banks dependent on the European Central Bank for liquidity, with its disastrous consequences.

Time to End the “Independent” Fed?

A media event that provoked even more outrage against central bankers last month, however, was an August 27th op-ed in Bloomberg by William Dudley, former president of the New York Fed and a former partner at Goldman Sachs. Titled “The Fed Shouldn’t Enable Donald Trump,” it concluded:

There’s even an argument that the [presidential] election itself falls within the Fed’s purview. After all, Trump’s reelection arguably presents a threat to the U.S. and global economy, to the Fed’s independence and its ability to achieve its employment and inflation objectives. If the goal of monetary policy is to achieve the best long-term economic outcome, then Fed officials should consider how their decisions will affect the political outcome in 2020.

The Fed is so independent that, according to former Fed chair Alan Greenspan, it is answerable to no one. A chief argument for retaining the Fed’s independence is that it needs to remain a neutral arbiter, beyond politics and political influence; and Dudley’s op-ed clearly breached that rule. Critics called it an attempt to overthrow a sitting president, a treasonous would-be coup that justified ending the Fed altogether.

Perhaps, but central banks actually serve some useful functions. Better would be to nationalize the Fed, turning it into a true public utility, mandated to serve the interests of the economy and the voting public. Having the central bank and the federal government work together to coordinate fiscal and monetary policy is actually a good idea, so long as the process is transparent and public representatives have control over where the money is deployed. It’s our money, and we should be able to decide where it goes.

This article was first posted on Truthdig.org.

The Public Banking Revolution Is Upon Us

As public banking gains momentum across the country, policymakers in California and Washington state are vying to form the nation’s second state-owned bank, following in the footsteps of the highly successful Bank of North Dakota, founded in 1919. The race is close, with state bank bills now passing their first round of hearings in both states’ senates.

In California, the story begins in 2011, when then-Assemblyman Ben Hueso filed his first bill to explore the creation of a state bank. The bill, which was for a blue-ribbon committee to do a feasibility study, sailed through both legislative houses and seemed to be a go. That is, until Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it, not on grounds that he disapproved of the concept, but because he said we did not need another blue-ribbon committee. The state had a banking committee that could review the matter in-house. Needless to say, nothing was heard of the proposal after that.

So when now-Sen. Hueso filed SB 528 earlier this year, he went straight for setting up a state bank. The details could be worked out during the two to three years it would take to get a master account from the Federal Reserve, by a commission drawn from in-house staff that had access to the data and understood the issues.

Sen. Hueso also went for the low hanging fruit—a proposal to turn an existing state institution, the California Infrastructure and Development Bank (or “IBank”), into a depository bank that could leverage its capital into multiple loans. By turning the $400 million IBank currently has for loans into bank capital, it could lend $4 billion, backed by demand deposits from the local governments that are its clients. The IBank has a 15-year record of success; experienced staff and detailed procedures already in place; low-risk customers, consisting solely of government entities; and low-interest loans for infrastructure and development that are in such high demand that requests are 30 times current capacity.

The time is also right for bringing the bill, as a growing public banking movement is picking up momentum across the U.S. Over 25 public bank bills are currently active, and dozens of groups are promoting the idea. Advocates include a highly motivated generation of young millennials, who are only too aware that the old system is not working for them and a new direction is needed.

Banks now create most of our money supply and need to be made public utilities, following the stellar precedent of the Bank of North Dakota, which makes below-market loans for local communities and businesses while turning a profit for the state. The Bank of North Dakota was founded in 1919 in response to a farmers’ revolt against out-of-state banks that were foreclosing unfairly on their farms. Since then it has evolved into a $7.4 billion bank that is reported to be even more profitable than JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, although its mandate is not actually to make a profit but simply to serve the interests of local North Dakota communities. Along with hundreds of public banks worldwide, it has demonstrated what can be done by cutting out private shareholders and middlemen and mobilizing public revenues to serve the public interest.

The time is right politically to adopt that model. The newly elected California governor, Gavin Newsom, has expressed strong interest both in a state-owned bank and in the IBank approach. In Los Angeles, the City Council brought a measure for a city-owned bank that won 44% of the vote in November, and City Council President Herb Wesson has stated that the measure will be brought again. Where there is the political will, policymakers generally find a way.

Advocates in eight Golden State cities have formed the California Public Banking Alliance, which co-sponsored another public banking bill filed just last month. Introduced by Assembly Members David Chiu and Miguel Santiago, Assembly Bill 857 would enable the chartering of public banks by local California governments. The bill, which has broad grassroots support, would “authorize the lending of public credit to public banks and authorize public ownership of stock in public banks for the purpose of achieving cost savings, strengthening local economies, supporting community economic development, and addressing infrastructure and housing needs for localities.”

The first hearing on Hueso’s Senate Bill 528 was held in Sacramento last week before the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, where it passed. The bill goes next to the Senate Banking Committee. With momentum growing, California could be the first state in the 21st century to form its own bank; but it is getting heavy competition in that race from Washington State.

Washington’s Public Bank Movement: The Virtues of Persistence

Like Sen. Hueso, Washington State Sen. Bob Hasegawa filed his first bill for a state-owned bank nearly a decade ago. The measure is now in its fifth iteration. Along the way, his Senate State Banking Caucus has acquired 23 members, just three votes short of a senate majority.

As Sen. Patty Kuderer explained at an informational forum held by the Caucus in October, their bills kept getting stalled with the same questions and concerns, and they saw that a different approach was needed; so in 2017, they advised the state to hire professional banking consultants to address the concerns and to draft a business plan that would “move the concept forward from the theoretical to the concrete, so that legislators would have a solid idea of what they would eventually be voting on.” They could bypass the studies and go straight to a business plan that laid out the nuts and bolts.

The maneuver worked. Senate Bill 6375 was the first public banking bill to be advanced out of the Policy Committee with bipartisan support. It got stalled in the Ways and Means Committee, but another bill, SB 5959, was filed this year. In yet another bill, SB 6032-Supplemental Budget, the fiscal Ways and Means committee committed $480,000 to assessing risk and developing a business plan for the effort.

The form of the proposed bank was also modified: a bank that simply would have received the state’s tax funds as deposits evolved into a “co-op” that would be open to membership not just by the state but by all “political subdivisions that have a tax base.” Opening the co-op bank’s membership would allow it to generate substantially more credit than could be made from the state’s revenues alone, since it would have the ability to hold as deposits the combined revenues of cities, counties, ports and utility districts, as well as of the state itself. Those entities would also be able to borrow at below-market rates from the co-op bank and to leverage the tax dollars they collected. The concept was similar to that being advanced in California’s SB 528, which would allow the IBank to expand its lending capacity to local governments by taking the demand deposits of those same governments and affiliated public entities.

The Washington State business plan is due no later than June 30, 2019, and legislators expect to vote on the bill no later than 2020.

Whenever it happens, says Sen. Hasegawa, “I see a public bank as almost inevitable because of the current financial structures we’re required to live under.” State infrastructure needs are huge, and the existing funding options—raising taxes, cutting services and increasing debt levels—have been exhausted. Newly-created credit directed into local communities by publicly-owned banks can provide the additional funding that local governments critically need.

Whichever state wins the race for the next state bank, the implications are huge. A century after the very successful Bank of North Dakota proved the model, the time has finally come to apply it across the country.

• This article was first published on Truthdig.com

Why Is the Fed Paying So Much Interest to Banks?

If you invest your tuppence wisely in the bank, safe and sound,
Soon that tuppence safely invested in the bank will compound,

And you’ll achieve that sense of conquest as your affluence expands
In the hands of the directors who invest as propriety demands.

— Mary Poppins, 1964

When Mary Poppins was made into a movie in 1964, Mr. Banks’ advice to his son was sound. Banks were then paying more than 5% interest on deposits, enough to double young Michael’s investment every 14 years.

Now, however, the average savings account pays only 0.10% annually – that’s 1/10th of 1% – and many of the country’s biggest banks pay less than that. If you were to put $5,000 in a regular Bank of America savings account (paying 0.01%) today, in a year you would have collected only 50 cents in interest.

That’s true for most of us, but banks themselves are earning 2.4% on their deposits at the Federal Reserve. These deposits, called “excess reserves,” include the reserves the banks got from our deposits, on which they are paying almost nothing; and unlike with our deposits, there is no $250,000 cap on the sums banks can stash at the Fed amassing interest. A whopping $1.5 trillion in reserves are now sitting in Fed reserve accounts. The Fed rebates its profits to the government after deducting its costs, and interest paid to banks is one of those costs. That means we the taxpayers are paying $36 billion annually to private banks for the privilege of parking their excess reserves at one of the most secure banks in the world – parking their reserves rather than lending them out.

The banks are getting these outsized returns while taking absolutely no risk, since the Fed as “lender of last resort” cannot go bankrupt. This is not true for other depositors, including large institutions such as the pension funds that hold our retirement money. As Matt Levine notes in a March 8 article on Bloomberg:

[I]f you are a large institutional cash investor—a money-market fund, a foreign central bank, things like that—then in some sense you have no way to keep your money perfectly safe…. The closest that big non-banks normally get is “overnight general collateral repo”: You give your money to a bank, and the bank gives you back a Treasury security as collateral, and you can get your money back the next day.

This arrangement is reasonably safe for the institutional investor, which can withdraw its money on a day’s notice; and it gets interest that is close to 2.4%. But the bank is using the investor’s money to run its business, and the bank is leveraged. The money it gets from repoing Treasuries is used to buy other things and to trade in stocks, bonds, derivatives and the like. This makes the repo business highly risky for the market as a whole, as was seen when a run on the repo market triggered the credit crisis of 2008-09. As Jennifer Taub explained the problem in a 2014 article in the New York Times titled “Time to Reduce Repo Run Risk”:

An overnight repo would be like you having a car loan that is due in full every morning and if the lender does not renew your loan that day, you need to find a new one, each and every day or they take your car away.

When trust is strong and cash plentiful, repos are rolled over. When trust reasonably erodes, or there is a panic, cash is demanded from the repo borrowers who might have to sell the collateral or relinquish it…. Indeed, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has repeatedly warned of the repo “fire sale” risk.

Taub cited FDIC officials Thomas Hoenig and Sheila Bair, who warned that the banks remain dangerously interconnected and vulnerable to sudden runs due to their dependence on short-term, often overnight borrowing through the multitrillion-dollar repo market.

For large institutional investors, one proposed alternative is something called “The Narrow Bank” (TNB). TNB would take large-depositor money and park it at the Fed, and that’s all the bank would do. The Fed would pay 2.4%, TNB would take a small cut, and the rest would be passed to the depositors. But the Fed has refused to open this sort of pass-through account, and in a recent notice of proposed rulemaking it explained why. As Matt Levine summarized its concerns:

[T]he Fed worries that having too safe a bank would be bad for financial stability: In times of stress, everyone will flee from the regular banks to the super-safe narrow banks, which will have the effect of bringing down the regular banks.

Besides impairing its ability to target interest rates, the Fed is worried that narrow banks will take funding away from regular banks, making it harder for those banks to trade stocks and bonds (a business largely funded by repo) as well as jeopardizing their lending business. All of which shows, says Levine, that the Fed is not a neutral arbiter. It is working for the banks:

The Fed just gets to decide who gets to compete in the banking business, and how that competition will work, and what their business models can be, by virtue of its control of access to reserve accounts…. There is no modern banking that is independent of the sovereign’s power to control money, and the question is just who the sovereign shares that power with.

The European Approach: Negative Interest Rates

While US banks are being paid an unprecedented 2.4% for leaving their reserves at the Fed, the European Central Bank is taking the opposite tack: it is charging banks a negative interest rate of 0.4% for holding their reserves. The goal is to get banks to move the reserves off their books by making new loans. If they lend money on to the real economy, and particularly to companies, this interest payment may be rebated to the banks under a facility called “targeted longer-term refinancing operations” or TLTROs. In 2016 and 2017, the ECB returned a total of 739 billion euros to banks through TLTROs, and it is expected to renew that program, in an effort to avoid an even greater economic downturn than Europe is suffering now.

Negative interest rates were supposed to be a temporary emergency measure, but in comments on March 27, ECB President Mario Draghi hinted that they could be around for a long time if not permanently. The “new normal” is evidently a chronically abnormal state of emergency in which central banks can experiment with the formerly unthinkable and get away with it.

A Public Option for the Rest of Us

Even if large depositors were allowed to participate in the perks of Fed accounts through TNB, small depositors and small businesses would still be left with a meager 1/10th of 1% annually on their deposits. But some interesting proposals are on the table for opening the Fed’s deposit window to everyone, allowing us all to collect 2.4% on our deposits.

One such plan was presented in a June 2018 policy paper titled “Central Banking for All: A Public Option for Bank Accounts” by a trio of law professors and former Treasury advisors headed by Morgan Ricks. They suggested that for the physical infrastructure to handle so many accounts, the Fed could use the post offices peppered across the country. Postal banking has been popular for two centuries in Europe and was offered in US post offices from 1911 to 1967. Postal banks were in their heyday in the 1930s, when private banks were going bankrupt and were vulnerable to crushing bank runs. The postal banks were government-backed, paid 2% interest on deposits, and were very safe. Congress could have expanded that system into a national public utility that safely and efficiently served the banking needs of local communities. But instead it chose to back the private banking system with federal deposit insurance, guaranteeing private bank deposits with taxpayer funds – again showing how the winners and losers are picked by government officials, depending on whose lobbyists have the most clout.

To prevent public banks from competing with private banks, Congress capped the amount of interest postal banks could pay and strictly limited their lending. As a result, in 1967 the postal banking system was shut down as being no longer competitive or necessary. But efforts are now underway to revive it. In April 2018, US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced legislation that would require every US post office to provide basic banking services.

A movement is also afoot to establish state- and city-owned banks that would have the ability to lend for infrastructure and other local needs. Local governments cannot get a risk-free 2.4% from the Fed for their demand deposits, but city- or state-owned banks could. Combining postal banks with a network of local public banks having affordable access to the Fed’s deep pocket could provide a safe and efficient public banking option for individuals, businesses and local governments.

This article was first published on Truthdig.com.

Europe on the Brink of Collapse?

The Empire’s European castle of vassals is crumbling. Right in front of our eyes. But Nobody seems to see it. The European Union (EU), the conglomerate of vassals. Trump calls them irrelevant, and he doesn’t care what they think about him, they deserve to be collapsing. They, the ‘vassalic’ EU, a group of 28 countries, some 500 million people, with a combined economy of a projected 19 trillion US-dollar equivalent, about the same as the US, have submitted themselves to the dictate of Washington in just about every important aspect of life.

The EU has accepted on orders by Washington to sanction Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and a myriad of countries that have never done any harm to any of the 28 EU member states. The EU has accepted the humiliation of military impositions by NATO – threatening Russia and China with ever more and ever more advancing military basis towards Moscow and Beijing, to the point that Brussels’ foreign policy is basically led by NATO.

It was clear from the very get-go that the US sanctions regime imposed on Russia and all the countries refusing to submit to the whims and rules of Washington, directly and via the EU, was hurting the EU economically far more than Russia. This is specifically true for some of the southern European countries, whose economy depended more on trading with Russia and Eurasia than it did for other EU countries.

The ‘sanctions’ disaster really hit the fan, when Trump unilaterally decided to abrogate the “Nuclear Deal” with Iran and reimpose heavy sanctions on Iran and on “everybody who would do business with Iran”. European hydrocarbon giants started losing business. That’s when Brussels, led by Germany, started mumbling that they would not follow the US and – even – that they would back European corporations, mainly hydrocarbon giants, sticking to their contractual arrangements they had with Iran.

Too late. European business had lost all confidence in Brussels EU Administration’s feeble and generally untrustworthy words. Many breached their longstanding and, after the Nuclear Deal, renewed contracts with Iran, out of fear of punishment by Washington and lack of trust in Brussel’s protection. Case in point is the French-British petrol giant, Total, which shifted its supply source from Iran to Russia – no, not to the US, as was, of course, Washington’s intent. The damage is done. The vassals are committing slow suicide.

The people have had it. More than half of the European population wants to get out of the fangs from Brussels. But nobody asks them, nor listens to them, and that in the so-called heartland of ‘democracy’ (sic). That’s why people are now up in arms and protesting everywhere – in one way or another in Germany, France, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Poland – the list is almost endless. And it can be called generically the ‘Yellow Vests”, after the new French revolution.

The latest in a series of the US attacking Germany and German business – and German integrity, for that matter – are the US Ambassador’s, Richard Grenell, recent threats to German corporations with sanctions if they work on Nord Stream 2, the 1,200 km pipeline bringing Russian gas to Europe, to be completed by the end of 2019. It will virtually double the capacity of Russian gas supply to Europe. Instead, Washington wants Europe to buy US shale gas and oil, and especially keeping Europe economically and financially in the US orbit, avoiding in any way a detachment from Washington and preventing the obvious and logical – an alliance with Russia. This attempt will fail bitterly, as various German Ministers, including Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, have loudly and with determination protested against such US hegemonic advances. Well, friends, you have bent over backwards to please your Washington Masters for too long. It’s high time to step out of this lock-step of obedience.

In France, this past weekend of 12 / 13 January, the Yellow Vests went into round 9 of protests against dictator Macron, his austerity program and not least his abject arrogance vis-à- vis the working class. A recent public statement of Macron’s is testimony of this below-the-belt arrogance: Trop de francals n’ont pas le sens de l’effort, ce qui explique en partie les ‘troubles’ que connalt le pays”. Translated: “Too many French don’t know the meaning of ‘effort’ which explains at least partially the trouble this country is in.”

The Yellow Vests and a majority of the French population want nothing less than Macron’s resignation. Protesters are consistently and largely under-reported by Christophe Castaner, the French Interior Minister. This past weekend the official figure was 50,000 demonstrators, countrywide, when in reality the figure was at least three times higher. The official French version would like the public at large, inside and outside of France, to believe that the Yellow Vest’s movement is diminishing. It is not. To the contrary, they are demonstrating all over France, and that despite the Macron regime’s increasing violent repression.

RT reports on Macron’s orders the police are becoming more violent, using military suppression to control protesting French civilians. Thousands have been arrested, and hundreds injured by police brutality. Nevertheless, the movement is gaining massive public support and the ‘Yellow Vests” idea is spreading throughout Europe. This spread is, of course, hardly reported by the mainstream media.

In fact, 80% of the French back the Yellow Vests and their idea of a Citizen Initiated Referendum (RIC for “Référendum d’initiative citoyenne”), under which citizens could propose their own laws that would then be voted on by the general public. The RIC could effectively bypass the French Parliament, and would be enshrined in the French Constitution. A similar law exists since 1848 in Switzerland and is regularly applied by Swiss citizens. It is a way of Direct Democracy that any country calling itself a “democracy” should incorporate in its Constitution.

The UK is in shambles. Thousands are taking to the streets of London, organized by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity”, calling for general elections to replace the failing Tory Government. They are joined by the French Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests), out of solidarity. Many of the UK protesters are also wearing high-visibility yellow vests.

This is in direct correlation with the ever-growing louder debacle over BREXIT – yes, or no and how. At this point nobody knows what Britain’s future is going to be. Propaganda and counter-propaganda is destined to further confuse the people and confused people usually want to stick to the ‘status quo’. There is even a movement of pro “remain” propaganda, organized by some members of the European Parliament. Imagine! Talking about sovereignty, if Brussels cannot even leave the Brits alone to decide whether they want to continue under their dictate or not.

Hélas, the Brits are largely divided, but also past the stage of being swayed by foreign propaganda, especially in this delicate question of leaving the EU – which a majority of Brits clearly decided in June 2016. Prime Minister, Theresa May, has screwed-up the BREXIT process royally, to the point where many Brits feel that what she negotiated is worse than “no deal”. This has likely happened in close connivance with the unelected EU ‘leadership’ which does not want the UK to leave and under strict orders from Washington which needs the UK in its crucial role as a US mole in the European Union.

On 15 January 2019, the UK Parliament voted on whether they accept the negotiated BREXIT conditions, or whether they prefer a ‘no deal’ BREXIT, or will request an extension for further negotiations under Article 50 of the “Treaty of Lisbon” (which was imposed by the heads of state of the 28 members, without any public vote, and is a false stand-in for a EU Constitution). Ms. May’s proposal was largely rejected by the British Parliament, but her Government survived a subsequent vote of “No Confidence”.

Now, the situation for the a divided British population is chaos. So far nobody knows, probably not even Ms. May, what will follow next. There are various options, including ‘snap’ elections, and let the new PM decide, a new “remain or exit” referendum that would not go down well with probably the majority of the population – or simply a vote to in Parliament for a “no deal Brexit”, or to stay in the EU after all.

For weeks, the Yellow Vest movement has spread to Belgium and The Netherlands. For similar reasons – public discontent over austerity, EU dictatorship over Belgian and Dutch sovereignty. Last Friday, one of the Belgian Yellow Vests was overrun by a truck and killed. Authorities reported it as an accident.

Greece — The MS-media report all is ‘donkey-dory’, Greece is recovering, has for the first time in many years a positive growth rate and is able to refinance herself on the open capital market. Greece is no longer dependent on the irate and infamous troika (European Central Bank – ECB, European Commission and IMF). Reality is completely different, as about two thirds of the Greek population are still hovering around or below the survival level – no access to public health care, affordable medication, public schools – umpteen times reduced pensions, most public assets and services privatized for a pittance. Nothing has fundamentally changed in the last years, at least not for the better and for the majority of the people. The troika has allowed the Greek to go to the private capital markets – to boost falsely their, the Greek’s, image among the international public at large, basically telling the brainwashed populace, “It worked, we, the troika, did a good job”.

Nothing worked. People are unhappy; more than unhappy, they are indignant. They demonstrated against Angela Merkel’s recent visit to Athens, and their protests were violently oppressed by police forces. What do you expect? This is what has become of Europe, a highly repressive state of spineless vassals.

On Wednesday, 16 January, the Greek Parliament may hold a Vote of Confidence against or for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The official and make-believe reason is supposedly the controversy over the name of Macedonia, which, in fact, has long been settled. The real reason is the public’s discontent about the continuous and increasing blood-letting by never-ending austerity, sucking the last pennies from the poor. According to Lancet, the renowned British health journal, the Greek suicide rate is soaring. Nobody talks about it. Will Tsipras survive a possible Vote of Confidence? If not, early elections? Who will follow Tsipras? Don’t be fooled by the term ‘democracy’.  The elite from within and without Greece will not allow any policy changes. That’s when people à la Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) may come in. Civil unrest. Enough is enough.

In Italy the coalition of the 5-Star Movement and the small right-wing brother, Lega Norte, is pulled to the far right by Lega’s Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Mr. Salvini is clearly calling the shots, and his alliance is firing strongly against Brussels and with good reason, as Brussels is attempting to impose rules on Italy’s budget, while the same rules do not apply equally to all EU member states. For example, Macron, France’s Rothschild implant, has special privileges, as far as budget overrun margins are concerned. Mr. Salvini’s anti-Brussels, anti-EU stance is no secret, and he has a lot of Italians behind him. An Italian Yellow Vest movement cannot be excluded.

The empire’s vassal castle is crumbling and not even silently.

Then there are the former Soviet satellites, Hungary and Poland, turned right wing – don’t appreciate Brussels meddling with Hungary’s anti-immigration policy and in Poland over a controversial overhaul of the Judiciary system. Never mind whether you agree or not with individual country actions. Both cases are clear interferences in these nations’ sovereignty. Though upon the European Court of Justice’s strong warning, Poland indeed blinked and reinstated the judges fired in the judiciary reform process. Poland’s love for NATO, and Brussels use of the NATO leverage, may have played a role in Poland’s reversal of decision. Nevertheless, discontent in Poland as in Hungary among the public at large remains strong. Migration and the Judiciary are just the visible pretexts. The legendary tip of the iceberg. Reality is on a deeper level, much deeper. These countries are both reminded of what they considered the Soviet Union’s handcuffs. “Freedom” is not being dictated by Brussels.

The triad of systematic and willful destabilization and destruction of what we know as the Greater Middle East and western world is what we have to be aware of. The east, mostly Russia and China, is a challenge being tackled simultaneously, impressively for the brainwashed westerner, but rather meekly for those who are informed about Russia’s and China’s military might and intelligence capacity.

This drive of destabilization cum destruction comes in three phases. It started with the Middle East which for the most part has become a hopeless hell-hole, a source of indiscriminate killing by the western allies, say, the emperor’s puppets and mercenaries, resulting in millions killed and in an endless flood of refugees destabilizing Europe – which is the second phase of the triad. It’s in full swing. It happens right in front of our eyes, but we don’t see it.

It’s the Yellow Vests, austerity, increasing inequality, unemployment, social sector’s being milked to zilch by the financial system, popular uprisings’ oppression by police and military forces; it’s reflected by the dismal powerlessness of the people that leads to “enough is enough” in the streets. That’s the way it’s all wanted. The more chaos the better. People in chaos are easily controlled.

Now comes phase three of the triad – Latin America. It has already started three or four years back. Countries that have struggled for decades to eventually break loose with some form of ‘democracy’ from the fangs of empire, are gradually being subdued with fake elections and ‘internal’ parliamentary coups, back into the emperor’s backyard. The Southern Cone – Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay – is ‘gone’, except for Bolivia. Peru, Colombia, Ecuador all the way to Guyana are governed by neoliberal, even neo-nazi-shaded Lords of Washington. But there is still Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and now also Mexico that have not caved in and will not cave in.

In an extraordinary analysis, Thierry Meyssan describes in “The Terrible Forthcoming Destruction of the Caribbean Basin” –  how the Pentagon is still pursuing the implementation of the Rumsfeld-Cebrowski plan, this time aiming at the destruction of the “Caribbean Basin” States. There is no consideration for friends or political enemies, Thierry Meyssan observes. He goes on predicting that after the period of economic destabilization and that of military preparation, the actual operation should begin in the years to come by an attack on Venezuela by Brazil (supported by Israel), Colombia (an ally of the United States) and Guyana (in other words, the United Kingdom). It will be followed by others, beginning with Cuba and Nicaragua, the ‘troika of tyranny’, as per John Bolton.

Only the future will say to what extent this plan will be implemented. At the outset, its ambitions exceed the crumbling empire’s actual capacity.

When it comes all down to one single denominator, it’s the current western financial system that must go. It is private banking gone berserk. We are living in a financial system that has gone wild and running havoc, uncontrolled – a train of endless greed that is loosely speeding ahead and doesn’t know when it will hit an unyielding steel-enforced brick wall – but hit it will. It is a mere question of time. People are sick and tired of being milked no end by a fraudulent pyramid system constructed by the US and her dollar hegemony and maintained by globalized private banking.

We are living in a private banking system that has nothing to do with economic development, but everything with a greed-driven domination of us, consumers, sold on debt and on money that we don’t control, despite the fact that we earned it with our hard labor; despite the fact that it is our added value to what we call the economy. No!  This system is totally disrespectful of the individual.  It is even ready to steal our money, if it needs to survive – our banking system. It takes the liberty of “administering” it and basically appropriating it. Once our money is in a private bank, we have lost control over it. And mind you and get it into your brains, private banks do not work for you and me, but for their shareholders. But through hundreds of years of indoctrination, we have become so used to it, that being charged interest for borrowing our own money, through an intermediary who does nothing, absolutely nothing but wait for profit to fall into its lap, has become the ‘normality’.

It isn’t. This system has to be abolished, the faster the better. Private banking needs to be eradicated and replaced by local public banking that works with local currencies, based on local economic output, way removed from globalized concepts that help steal resources, empty local social safety nets – all under the guise of austerity for progress. We should know better by now. There is no austerity for progress, has never been. This fraudulent IMF-World Bank concept has never worked, anywhere.

We have to de-dollarize our money, de-digitize our money and pool it through a public banking system for the purpose of people’s growth, hence a society’s or nation’s growth. There is currently one good example, the Bank of North Dakota. The BND has helped the US State of North Dakota through the 2008 and following years crisis, with economic growth instead of economic decline, with almost full employment, versus skyrocketing unemployment in the rest of the US and the western world. We need to build our common wealth with sovereign money, backed by our sovereign economies.

As the empire and its vassals are crumbling badly, they are shaking in their foundations, it is time to rethink what we have been taking for granted and for ‘normal’ – a fraudulent and deceptive monetary system, backed by nothing, no economy, not even gold – we are living on sheer fiat money, made by private banking by a mouse-click – and by letting us be enslaved by debt.

Enough is enough. The Yellow Vests have understood. They want to get rid of their “Macron” who keeps propagating the fraud. It is time to rethink and restart, as the crumbling is getting louder and louder. Empire’s European vassal state is falling apart and will pull Washington and its hegemonic war and money machine along into the abyss.

• First published by the New Eastern Outlook – NEO

Universal Basic Income Is Easier Than It Looks

Calls for a Universal Basic Income have been increasing, most recently as part of the Green New Deal introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported in the last month by at least 40 members of Congress. A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a monthly payment to all adults with no strings attached, similar to Social Security. Critics say the Green New Deal asks too much of the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the resolution proposes. It says funding would primarily come from the federal government, “using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks,” and other vehicles.

The Federal Reserve alone could do the job. It could buy “Green” federal bonds with money created on its balance sheet, just as the Fed funded the purchase of $3.7 trillion in bonds in its “quantitative easing” program to save the banks. The Treasury could also do it. The Treasury has the constitutional power to issue coins in any denomination, even trillion dollar coins. What prevents legislators from pursuing those options is the fear of hyperinflation from excess “demand” (spendable income) driving prices up. But, in fact, the consumer economy is chronically short of spendable income, due to the way money enters the consumer economy. We actually need regular injections of money to avoid a “balance sheet recession” and allow for growth, and a UBI is one way to do it.

The pros and cons of a UBI are hotly debated and have been discussed elsewhere. The point here is to show that it could actually be funded year after year without driving up taxes or prices. New money is continually being added to the money supply, but it is added as debt created privately by banks. (How banks rather than the government create most of the money supply today is explained on the Bank of England website here.) A UBI would replace money-created-as-debt with debt-free money – a “debt jubilee” for consumers – while leaving the money supply for the most part unchanged; and to the extent that new money was added, it could help create the demand needed to fill the gap between actual and potential productivity.

The Debt Overhang Crippling Economies

The “bank money” composing most of the money in circulation is created only when someone borrows, and today businesses and consumers are burdened with debts that are higher than ever before. In 2018, credit card debt alone exceeded $1 trillion, student debt exceeded $1.5 trillion, auto loan debt exceeded $1.1 trillion, and non-financial corporate debt hit $5.7 trillion. When businesses and individuals pay down old loans rather than taking out new loans, the money supply shrinks, causing a “balance sheet recession.” In that situation, the central bank, rather than removing money from the economy (as the Fed is doing now), needs to add money to fill the gap between debt and the spendable income available to repay it.

Debt always grows faster than the money available to repay it. One problem is the interest, which is not created along with the principal, so more money is always owed back than was created in the original loan. Beyond that, some of the money created as debt is held off the consumer market by “savers” and investors who place it elsewhere, making it unavailable to companies selling their wares and the wage-earners they employ. The result is a debt bubble that continues to grow until it is not sustainable and the system collapses, in the familiar death spiral euphemistically called the “business cycle.” As economist Michael Hudson shows in his 2018 book And Forgive Them Their Debts, this inevitable debt overhang was corrected historically with periodic “debt jubilees” – debt forgiveness – something he argues we need to do again today.

For governments, a debt jubilee could be effected by allowing the central bank to buy government securities and hold them on its books. For individuals, one way to do it fairly across the board would be with a UBI.

Why a UBI Need Not Be Inflationary

In a 2018 book called The Road to Debt Bondage: How Banks Create Unpayable Debt, political economist Derryl Hermanutz proposes a central-bank-issued UBI of one thousand dollars per month, credited directly to people’s bank accounts. Assuming this payment went to all US residents over 18, or about 241 million people, the outlay would be close to $3 trillion annually. For people with overdue debt, Hermanutz proposes that it automatically go to pay down those debts. Since money is created as loans and extinguished when they are repaid, that portion of a UBI disbursement would be extinguished along with the debt.

People who were current on their debts could choose whether or not to pay them down, but many would also no doubt go for that option. Hermanutz estimates that roughly half of a UBI payout could be extinguished in this way through mandatory and voluntary loan repayments. That money would not increase the money supply or demand. It would just allow debtors to spend on necessities with debt-free money rather than hocking their futures with unrepayable debt.

He estimates that another third of a UBI disbursement would go to “savers” who did not need the money for expenditures. This money, too, would not be likely to drive up consumer prices, since it would go into investment and savings vehicles rather than circulating in the consumer economy. That leaves only about one-sixth of payouts, or $500 billion, that would actually be competing for goods and services; and that sum could easily be absorbed by the “output gap” between actual and forecasted productivity.

According to a July 2017 paper from the Roosevelt Institute called “What Recovery? The Case for Continued Expansionary Policy at the Fed”:

GDP remains well below both the long-run trend and the level predicted by forecasters a decade ago. In 2016, real per capita GDP was 10% below the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2006 forecast, and shows no signs of returning to the predicted level.

The report showed that the most likely explanation for this lackluster growth was inadequate demand. Wages have remained stagnant; and before producers will produce, they need customers knocking on their doors.

In 2017, the US Gross Domestic Product was $19.4 trillion. If the economy is running at 10% below full capacity, $2 trillion could be injected into the economy every year without creating price inflation. It would just generate the demand needed to stimulate an additional $2 trillion in GDP. In fact, a UBI might pay for itself, just as the G.I. Bill produced a sevenfold return from increased productivity after World War II.

The Evidence of China

That new money can be injected year after year without triggering price inflation is evident from a look at China. In the last 20 years, its M2 money supply has grown from just over 10 trillion yuan to 80 trillion yuan ($11.6T), a nearly 800% increase. Yet the inflation rate of its Consumer Price Index (CPI) remains a modest 2.2%.

Why has all that excess money not driven prices up? The answer is that China’s Gross Domestic Product has grown at the same fast clip as its money supply. When supply (GDP) and demand (money) increase together, prices remain stable.

Whether or not the Chinese government would approve of a UBI, it does recognize that to stimulate productivity, the money must get out there first; and since the government owns 80% of China’s banks, it is in a position to borrow money into existence as needed. For “self-funding” loans – those that generate income (fees for rail travel and electricity, rents for real estate) – repayment extinguishes the debt along with the money it created, leaving the net money supply unchanged. When loans are not repaid, the money they created is not extinguished; but if it goes to consumers and businesses that then buy goods and services with it, demand will still stimulate the production of supply, so that supply and demand rise together and prices remain stable.

Without demand, producers will not produce and workers will not get hired, leaving them without the funds to generate supply, in a vicious cycle that leads to recession and depression. And that cycle is what our own central bank is triggering now.

The Fed Tightens the Screws

Rather than stimulating the economy with new demand, the Fed has been engaging in “quantitative tightening.” On December 19, 2018, it raised the fed funds rate for the ninth time in 3 years, despite a “brutal” stock market in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average had already lost 3,000 points in 2-½ months. The Fed is still struggling to reach even its modest 2% inflation target, and GDP growth is trending down, with estimates at only 2-2.7% for 2019. So why did it again raise rates, over the protests of commentators including the president himself?

For its barometer, the Fed looks at whether the economy has hit “full employment,” which it considers to be 4.7% unemployment, taking into account the “natural rate of unemployment” of people between jobs or voluntarily out of work. At full employment, workers are expected to demand more wages, causing prices to rise. But unemployment is now officially at 3.7% – beyond technical full employment – and neither wages nor consumer prices have shot up. There is obviously something wrong with the theory, as is evident from a look at Japan, where prices have long refused to rise despite a serious lack of workers.

The official unemployment figures are actually misleading. Including short-term discouraged workers, the rate of US unemployed or underemployed workers as of May 2018 was 7.6%, double the widely reported rate. When long-term discouraged workers are included, the real unemployment figure was 21.5%. Beyond that large untapped pool of workers, there is the seemingly endless supply of cheap labor from abroad and the expanding labor potential of robots, computers and machines. In fact, the economy’s ability to generate supply in response to demand is far from reaching full capacity today.

Our central bank is driving us into another recession based on bad economic theory. Adding money to the economy for productive, non-speculative purposes will not drive up prices so long as materials and workers (human or mechanical) are available to create the supply necessary to meet demand; and they are available now. There will always be price increases in particular markets when there are shortages, bottlenecks, monopolies or patents limiting competition, but these increases are not due to an economy awash with money. Housing, healthcare, education and gas have all gone up, but it is not because people have too much money to spend. In fact, it is those necessary expenses that are driving people into unrepayable debt, and it is this massive debt overhang that is preventing economic growth.

Without some form of debt jubilee, the debt bubble will continue to grow until it can again no longer be sustained. A UBI can help correct that problem without fear of “overheating” the economy, so long as the new money is limited to filling the gap between real and potential productivity and goes into generating jobs, building infrastructure and providing for the needs of the people, rather than being diverted into the speculative, parasitic economy that feeds off them.

This article was first published on Truthdig.com