The state bank solution

My brother put me onto the example of the North Dakota State Bank as a solution to our country’s financial woes:

While the Fed continues playing parlor tricks to try and stimulate the economy, a much simpler method of igniting long-term economic growth and stability exists in North Dakota. Yes, North Dakota, a state operating with a surplus of cash and unemployment at 4%. In the early 1900′s the economy of North Dakota was agriculture-based, and the farmers there were experiencing serious financial problems that prevented them from buying and selling crops and financing farm operations. Grain dealers from out-of-state controlled prices and kept them artificially low, while farm suppliers continually increased their prices. To no one’s surprise, interest rates on loans climbed.

By 1919 the people of North Dakota had had enough and wanted state ownership and control of marketing and credit agencies, and so the legislature established the Bank of North Dakota. Its mission: to promote the development of agriculture, commerce and industry in ND. The Bank of North Dakota is a public bank that is robustly solvent, with a strong record of financing loans for agriculture, housing and higher education, as well as funding municipal bonds. All tax revenues and fees in the state go into the State Bank, allowing North Dakota to finance construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure, maintain schools and libraries, and assist local businesses.

The Bank of North Dakota is truly a peoples’ bank that exists for the benefit of the state and its residents, only, with loans made at low interest rates and no bloated, outrageous CEO salaries and benefits that squander funds. And no shady derivatives allowed, either; a novel concept indeed. For 91 years the bank has flourished and North Dakota today is a rare example of economic strength in a sea of debt-ridden states that must slash services and raise taxes to stay afloat, giving a whole new meaning to the term “red states.” . . .

via Pearl Korn: North Dakota — A Template For Our Economic Recovery.

Here is more about how it works, from Ellen Brown:

By law, the state must deposit all its funds in the bank, and the state guarantees its deposits. The bank’s stated mission is to deliver sound financial services that promote agriculture, commerce and industry in North Dakota. The bank operates as a bankers’ bank, partnering with private banks to loan money to farmers, real estate developers, schools and small businesses. It loans money to students (over 184,000 outstanding loans), and it purchases municipal bonds from public institutions.

Still, you may ask, how does that solve the solvency problem? Isn’t the state limited to spending only the money it has? The answer is no. Certified, card-carrying bankers are allowed to do something nobody else can do: they can create “credit” with accounting entries on their books.

Under the “fractional reserve” lending system, banks are allowed to extend credit (create money as loans) in a sum equal to many times their deposit base. Congressman Jerry Voorhis, writing in 1973, explained it like this:

“[F]or every $1 or $1.50 which people – or the government – deposit in a bank, the banking system can create out of thin air and by the stroke of a pen some $10 of checkbook money or demand deposits. It can lend all that $10 into circulation at interest just so long as it has the $1 or a little more in reserve to back it up.”

The Federal Reserve’s 10 percent reserve requirement is now largely obsolete, in part because banks have figured out how to get around it with such games as “overnight sweeps”. What chiefly limits bank lending today is the 8 percent capital requirement imposed by the Bank for International Settlements, the head of the private global central banking system in Basel, Switzerland. With an 8 percent capital requirement, a state with its own bank could fan its revenues into 12.5 times their face value in loans (100 ÷ 8 = 12.5). And since the state would actually own the bank, it would not have to worry about shareholders or profits. It could lend to creditworthy borrowers at very low interest, perhaps limited only to a service charge covering its costs; and it could lend to itself or to its municipal governments at as low as zero percent interest. If these loans were rolled over indefinitely, the effect would be the same as creating new, debt-free money.

But, you ask, wouldn’t that be dangerously inflationary? Not if the money were used to create new goods and services. Price inflation results only when “demand” (money) exceeds “supply” (goods and services). When they increase together, prices remain stable. . . .

Our workers and our factories are sitting idle because the private credit system has failed. An injection of new money from a system of public banks could thaw the credit freeze and bring spring to the markets again. The mathematical flaw in the private credit system is the enormous tribute siphoned off to private coffers in the form of interest. A public banking system could overcome that flaw by returning the interest to the public purse. This is the sort of banking that was pioneered in Benjamin Franklin’s colony of Pennsylvania, where it worked brilliantly well. We need to return to our historical roots and implement that system again.

Liberals like this, moving capital from the private to the public sector, while conservatives might like the federalist implications for empowering the states, as well as the decentralization of finance (which is not exactly laissez faire as it is). And North Dakota is a Red State with pretty conservative citizens, isn’t it? What do you think? I told my brother I would submit the idea to my readers and let him know.

End of the welfare state?

England’s coalition government is getting tough on welfare.  As are other European nations:

Britain announced the most radical overhaul in decades Thursday to its once-generous welfare system, pledging harsh penalties for those who refuse jobs and community work service for the unemployed in return for benefit checks.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith unveiled sharp changes to the country’s cradle-to-grave social safety net, which was first introduced after World War II to better protect newborns, families, the jobless and the sick.

Critics have long said the British system offered hefty benefits unavailable to other citizens across Europe, the U.S. and other major economies — encouraging some people to snub modest jobs in favor of an easy life on handouts.

“The message is clear. If you can work, then a life of benefits will no longer be an option,” said Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government last month announced it would slash benefits payments by 18 billion pounds ($29 billion) under a four-year package of spending cuts worth 81 pounds ($128 billion).

Under the new plan, many of the 5 million people who claim jobless benefits in Britain will be ordered to regularly do four weeks of unpaid community work to remain eligible for their 65 pounds ($105) weekly welfare payment. The stints could include manual labor tasks like removing graffiti or gardening in public parks.

Unemployment claimants routinely also receive other welfare payments to help with housing costs and raising children.

The plan is the centerpiece of Cameron’s legislative program, and one of the key elements of his strategy to fix so-called “Broken Britain,” his election slogan for the social problems that he says have blighted the nation’s prospects.

Duncan Smith said under his reforms, those who turn down job offers, fail to show up for job interviews or decline to take part in community projects face tough punishments. Benefits will stop for three months on a first offense, for six months for the second time and for three years after a third breach.

The system is still much more lenient than that in Spain, where a third offense means a person loses their welfare payments for good.

Duncan Smith insists the changes are not just to reduce the country’s budget deficit but are meant to jolt a group of around 1.4 million Britons who have been without a job for about a decade.

“For too long, the success of our welfare system has been judged by the number of people who are on benefits,” said Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. “Our welfare system should be judged by the number of people who are off benefits and into work.”

Britain’s reforms echo a program by Sweden’s center-right government to get more people into the work force and reduce the number of benefit-takers.

Sweden’s motto — “it should pay off to work” — was echoed by Duncan Smith.

via Off the sofa! UK gets tough on welfare.

The ideological crisis of liberalism?

Although many states are hurting financially, the states with the biggest financial problems are the “blue states” like California and New York whose Democratic state legislatures with their liberal policies have brought them to the verge of ruin.  Michael Gerson describes the problem and suggests that they point to a crisis in liberalism:

Most significantly, the blue-state financial misery continues and deepens the ideological crisis of American liberalism. Few politicians in traditionally liberal states now speak about the expanding promise of progressive government and the welfare state. New Jersey is already in conservative revolt. New York’s Democratic governor-elect, Andrew Cuomo, campaigned on a promise of budget cuts without tax increases. The New York congressional delegation shifted significantly in a Republican direction. While California remains in denial – even after a budget crisis that has lasted for a decade – that could rapidly change as well. It may be Democratic governors who are forced by economic reality to limit the size and ambitions of government, delivering a body blow to liberalism itself. If progressive activism can’t survive in these places, it will be difficult for it to survive anywhere.

via Michael Gerson – Blue-state budget crises spell more trouble for Democrats.

But isn’t it also possible that a really severe and prolonged economic crisis might tilt the country to the hard left? For example, what if the government responded to the housing crisis by nationalizing the property of those evil banks and forgiving everyone’s mortgages? Would that not be popular? Yes, this would destroy our whole economic system. But would Americans have the principles to oppose measures that might seem to help them economically but that would be wrong?

A plan to cut the deficit

It is said that Americans want the government to cut spending while also wanting the government to spend more for them.  We will now see how serious the demands to cut the deficit are.

The bipartisan commission appointed by the president to suggest how to trim government spending and get the budget into balance is working on the problem.  The two chairmen have released a report on their suggestions.  (This is not the final report of the commission.)  The two have come up with a plan to save $4 trillion through 2020.  It cuts the military, eliminates earmarks, drops federal subsidies for student loans, cuts Medicare, freezes federal salaries, cuts farm subsidies, and eliminates the option to draw social security until you are 68.  Supposedly, there is something in the proposal to anger everybody.

It will also raise some taxes.  It includes an intriguing reform of the income tax:

The proposed simplification of the tax code would repeal or modify a number of popular tax breaks — including the deductibility of mortgage interest payments — so that income tax rates could be reduced across the board. Under the plan, individual income tax rates would decline to as low as 8 percent on the lowest income bracket (now 10 percent) and to 23 percent on the highest bracket (now 35 percent). The corporate tax rate, now 35 percent, would also be reduced, to as low as 26 percent.

Even after reducing the rates, the overhaul of the tax code would still yield additional revenue to reduce annual deficits — a projected $80 billion in 2015.

via Panel Weighs Deep Cuts in Tax Breaks and Spending – NYTimes.com.

Take a look at the proposed cuts listed in these articles andhere. Or read the entire 50-page report.

Would you be willing to bite this bullet?

Creating money out of thin air

The Federal Reserve has taken some major action in an effort to stimulate the econnomy:

The Federal Reserve escalated its efforts to get the U.S. economic recovery back on track Wednesday, again entering the realm of risky and untested policy in response to the worst downturn in generations.

The plan to pump $600 billion into the financial system is designed to stimulate the economy in large part by lowering mortgage and other interest rates.

Although the approach carries significant risks for both the economy and the central bank’s credibility, the steps announced by Fed policymakers could represent the nation’s best hope for breaking free of sluggish growth, especially with bold initiatives unlikely from a newly divided Congress.

Fed officials concluded that growth is too slow to bring down the 9.6 percent unemployment rate and is at risk of staying that way for some time absent new action. They were also concerned that inflation has been running too low and were looking for a way to encourage modest price increases, which would give consumers and businesses more reason to spend money before its value declined and help energize the economy.

“The pace of recovery in output and employment continues to be slow,” the Fed’s policymaking panel, the Federal Open Market Committee, said in a statement. “Employers remain reluctant to add to payrolls. Housing starts continue to be depressed.”

The Fed usually manages the economy by adjusting short-term interest rates. With those rates already near zero, Fed officials had to dust off a strategy for boosting the economy that debuted during the darkest days of the financial crisis. The Fed plans to create money, essentially out of thin air, and then pump it into the economy by buying Treasury bonds on the open market.

via Fed to buy $600 billion in bonds in effort to boost economic recovery.

I am neither an economist nor an economist’s son, so could someone explain how creating money out of thin air could possibly be a good idea?

Death is better than Taxes

The estate tax kicks back in on December 31, unless Bush’s tax cuts are extended.  Reportedly,  some elderly folks who want to give a big inheritance to their children planning to discontinue  life-saving medical treatments so as to die before that date.  So says Wyoming Congressional representative Cynthia Lummis, reporting that she is hearing this from some of her constituents, specifically, children of those who are planning their deaths.  See   Wyoming Rep. Lummis: Estate tax rise has some planning death.

If this is so, what would be the moral status of that action?   Does it matter that those who choose death would be doing it for the good of their children?


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