Dec 8, 2013
Hundreds Gather for Public Banking and Economic Justice
Posted on Jun 23, 2013
By Matt J. Stannard, Political Context
This piece first appeared at Political Context.
By any standards, the 2013 Public Banking Conference, held at beautiful Dominican University in San Rafael, California, was a success. In a political world where like-minded groups seldom converge on practical policy blueprints, it was an astounding success. Hundreds of committed attendees–Occupy activists, religious groups, labor, environmentalists, legal activists, journalists and progressive economists–came together for three days of heady conversations and inspiring presentations, and by all accounts, everyone left with something resembling a vision.
Understanding the socioeconomic context under which the Conference took place is useful in seeing why so many leading activists and scholars felt the imperative to attend. Whilecorporate profits soar, municipalities are dying. Governments bail out big banks and leave ordinary people out in the cold. An artificial scarcity permeates the public sector, a product of ideology and grab-and-go capitalism, and the deliberate starving of public services. The city of Philadelphia recently closed 23 public schools–not just failing schools, but successful ones. And, they opened their coffers for a $400 million prison. Budget cuts are making it harder for abused women to leave their abusers. The corporate media, in the words of Buzzflash-Truthout editor Mark Karlin, renders the poor, and really anyone outside of the corporate elite
A consensus is emerging that “the era of Big Finance capitalism” must end–not as an ideological matter, but a practical one, as PBI Conference speakers Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese wrote in an essay published yesterday. The question, of course, is what practical steps citizens and collective bodies might take to ensure that the transition is smooth, democratic, and constructive. It is in this larger background that the Conference took place–a time when good people are desperately seeking solutions that are not only practical, but palatable—and not only to ordinary working people, but to the handful of genuinely conscientious people who’ve managed to gain positions of political and cultural leadership in a quite imperfect world.
“What impressed me about the conference was the very rapid growth of the public banking movement,” says Tim Canova, Professor of Law and Public Finance at NOVA Southeastern University and a strong voice for public banking. “I met activists from all corners of the country working at the local level to start public banks in their own communities. This also reflects a growing consciousness of the political importance of credit and the historical role of public banking in efforts to achieve sustainable economic development.”
Public banking is not a new idea. Interest in the creation of state-run banks was spreading nationwide three years ago when John Nichols described the phenomena in the pages of The Nation. And, of course, the Bank of North Dakota has long been a model of sustainable economics in the midst of the chaos created by private capital. “In North Dakota, public debt is financed by its own public bank, allowing for interest to be paid back, in the form of lower taxes or increased public services, to the very people who pay the interest,” says Marc Armstrong. “North Dakotans have thrown off these supposed masters of finance, replacing them with public servants, working for the Bank of North Dakota, to further the interests of their people.”
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