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Think Your Money Is Safe in an Insured Bank Account? Think Again

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Posted on Jul 5, 2013
gpoo (CC BY 2.0)

By Ellen Brown, Web of Debt

(Page 2)

In the US, deposit insurance faces similar funding problems. As of June 30, 2011, the FDIC deposit insurance fund had a balance of only $3.9 billion to provide loss protection on $6.54 trillion of insured deposits. That means every $10,000 in deposits was protected by only $6 in reserves. The FDIC fund could borrow from the Treasury, but the Dodd-Frank Act (Section 716) now bans taxpayer bailouts of most speculative derivatives activities; and these would be the likely trigger of a 2008-style collapse.

Derivatives claims have “super-priority” in bankruptcy, meaning they take before all other claims. In the event of a major derivatives bust at JPMorgan Chase or Bank of America, both of which hold derivatives with notional values exceeding $70 trillion, the collateral is liable to be gone before either the FDIC or the other “secured” depositors (including state and local governments) get to the front of the line. (See here and here.)

Who Should Pay?

Who should bear the loss in the event of systemic collapse? The choices currently on the table are limited to taxpayers and bank creditors, including the largest class of creditor, the depositors. Imposing the losses on the profligate banks themselves would be more equitable , but if they have gambled away the money, they simply won’t have the funds. The rules need to be changed so that they cannot gamble the money away.

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One possibility for achieving this is area-wide regulation. Sibert writes:

[I]t is unreasonable to expect the area as a whole to bail out a particular country’s banks unless it can also supervise that country’s banks. This is problematic for the EEA or even the EU, but it may be possible – at least in the Eurozone – when and if [a] single supervisory mechanism comes into being.

A single regulatory agency for all Eurozone banks is being negotiated; but even if it were agreed to, the US experience with the Dodd-Frank regulations imposed on US banks shows that regulation alone is inadequate to curb bank speculation and prevent systemic risk. In a July 2012 article in The New York Times titled “Wall Street Is Too Big to Regulate,” Gar Alperovitz observed:

With high-paid lobbyists contesting every proposed regulation, it is increasingly clear that big banks can never be effectively controlled as private businesses.  If an enterprise (or five of them) is so large and so concentrated that competition and regulation are impossible, the most market-friendly step is to nationalize its functions.

The Nationalization Option>

Nationalization of bankrupt, systemically-important banks is not a new idea. It was done very successfully, for example, in Norway and Sweden in the 1990s. But having the government clean up the books and then sell the bank back to the private sector is an inadequate solution. Economist Michael Hudson maintains:

Real nationalization occurs when governments act in the public interest to take over private property. . . . Nationalizing the banks along these lines would mean that the government would supply the nation’s credit needs. The Treasury would become the source of new money, replacing commercial bank credit. Presumably this credit would be lent out for economically and socially productive purposes, not merely to inflate asset prices while loading down households and business with debt as has occurred under today’s commercial bank lending policies.

Anne Sibert proposes another solution along those lines. Rather than imposing losses on either the taxpayers or the depositors, they could be absorbed by the central bank, which would have the power to simply write them off. As lender of last resort, the central bank (the ECB or the Federal Reserve) can create money with computer entries, without drawing it from elsewhere or paying it back to anyone.

That solution would allow the depositors to keep their deposits and would save the taxpayers from having to pay for a banking crisis they did not create. But there would remain the problem of “moral hazard” – the temptation of banks to take even greater risks when they know they can dodge responsibility for them. That problem could be avoided, however, by making the banks public utilities, mandated to operate in the public interest. And if they had been public utilities in the first place, the problems of bail-outs, bail-ins, and banking crises might have been averted altogether.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books, including Web of Debt and its recently-published sequel The Public Bank Solution. Her websites are http://WebofDebt.com, http://PublicBankSolution.com, and http://PublicBankingInstitute.org.


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