Last week the Seattle city council unanimously voted to sever ties with Wells Fargo Bank over the bank’s funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Hours later, Davis, California followed suit. A few days later New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio publically indicated his interest and possible willingness to implement similar actions. In fact, NYC is beginning a full climate risk assessment of its $170 billion investment portfolio.
This is all good news. In fact many cities, particularly those of the Pacific Northwest who find themselves in the crosshairs of the fossil fuel industry’s pathway of destruction, are seeking measures aimed at combating climate change by stopping the spread of fossil fuel infrastructure.
Seattle’s move cost the pipeline-funding Wells Fargo Bank about $3 billion. It’s a good start. Economist & Professor Richard Wolff, author of Democracy At Work: A Cure for Capitalism, reminds us that “historically, boycotting has been one of the most powerful and effective tools the people have against wealthy elites.”
In all, 17 banks are involved in funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. And 38 banking institutions are funding another monstrosity, the proposed Bakken pipeline, which would stretch from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and from here to climate catastrophe.
The number of banks involved in funding just two out of the multitude of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure projects causes the sane to ask the following: “When we divest our money from one dirty bank, where are we going to put it?”
Professor Wolff points out another fly in the ointment of bank boycotts, “The minute you pull money from one bank and put it in another, some other group will protest that your chosen bank is invested in doing some other horrible thing. And there are not shortage of banks doing horrible things”.
For now, Seattle is coming up with a set of socially responsible practices that must be given considerable weight when deciding which banks to do business with in the future.
But another solution is possible. Seattle and other cities and states could set up a public bank. Public banks are owned and operated by the state or local government and accountable, via democracy, to the will of the people. Revenue from the bank gets spent on infrastructure, education, healthcare, or a Ground Hog Day Parade with free Fudgy The Whale Cake for that matter. It is the people’s money and they can spend it as they see fit. Plus, our cities will get to save the enormous fees currently being paid to private banks for the privilege of holding on to and profiting from our money.
Sound good? Add to it that it helps keeps residents’ taxes lower and you have a bipartisan favorite that will only be hated by private corporate banks and the politicians they own.
This is not some pie in the sky socialist utopian ideal. There are places in the United States that already have public banks. And they are not liberal hippie dippy college towns with 2 organic food co-ops and more hot yoga than cheap coffee. One such place, coincidentally, is the Conservative Republican state of North Dakota, where the state-owned Bank of North Dakota has been running since 1919. It is also where Enbridge is digging and laying the Dakota Access Pipeline. Looks like North Dakota knows a good idea when it hears it, at least when it comes to banking, not pipelines, clean water, treaty sovereignty or environmental conservation.
The idea that anything publicly owned is socialistic and a dangerous threat to freedom is quickly being seen for what it is: corporate-friendly propaganda.
But whatever you want to call it, public banking is just a good idea and possibly, the next step.
Julianna Forlano is a writer, speaker and performer who can be heard hosting the one liberal show left on Fox News Radio. She is a professor at The City University of New York at Brooklyn College and runs a coaching business for folks who want to break free of their own personal bullsh*t and be effective in the world.