"Epic in scale, unprecedented in world history . " That is how William K. Black, professor of law and economics and former bank fraud investigator, describes the frauds in which JPMorgan Chase (JPM) has now been implicated. They involve more than a dozen felonies, including bid-rigging on municipal bond debt; colluding to rig interest rates on hundreds of trillions of dollars in mortgages, derivatives and other contracts; exposing investors to excessive risk; failing to disclose known risks, including those in the Bernie Madoff scandal; and engaging in multiple forms of mortgage fraud.
So why, asks Chicago Alderwoman Leslie Hairston, are we still doing business with them? She plans to introduce a city council ordinance deleting JPM from the city's list of designated municipal depositories. As quoted in the January 14th Chicago Sun-Times:
The bank has violated the city code by making admissions of dishonesty and deceit in the way they dealt with their investors in the mortgage securities and Bernie Madoff Ponzi scandals. . . . We use this code against city contractors and all the small companies, why wouldn't we use this against one of the largest banks in the world?A similar move has been recommended for the City of Los Angeles by L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo. But in a January 19th editorial titled "There's No Profit in L A. Bashing JPMorgan Chase," the L.A. Times editorial board warned against pulling the city's money out of JPM and other mega-banks -- even though the city attorney is suing them for allegedly causing an epidemic of foreclosures in minority neighborhoods. "L.A. relies on these banks," says The Times, "for long-term financing to build bridges and restore lakes, and for short-term financing to pay the bills." The editorial noted that a similar proposal brought in the fall of 2011 by then-Councilman Richard Alarcon, backed by Occupy L.A., was abandoned because it would have resulted in termination fees and higher interest payments by the city.
It seems we must bow to our oppressors because we have no viable alternative -- or do we? What if there is an alternative that would not only save the city money but would be a safer place to deposit its funds than in Wall Street banks?
The Tiny State That Broke Free
There is a place where they don't bow. Where they don't park their assets on Wall Street and play the mega-bank game, and haven't for almost 100 years. Where they escaped the 2008 banking crisis and have no government debt, the lowest foreclosure rate in the country, the lowest default rate on credit card debt, and the lowest unemployment rate. They also have the only publicly-owned bank.
The place is North Dakota, and their state-owned Bank of North Dakota (BND) is a model for Los Angeles and other cities, counties, and states.
Like the BND, a public bank of the City of Los Angeles would not be a commercial bank and would not compete with commercial banks. In fact, it would partner with them -- using its tax revenue deposits to create credit for lending programs through the magical everyday banking practice of leveraging capital.
The BND is a major money-maker for North Dakota, returning about $30 million annually in dividends to the treasury -- not bad for a state with a population that is less than one-fifth that of the City of Los Angeles. Every year since the 2008 banking crisis, the BND has reported a return on investment of 17-26%.