“[W]ith Cyprus . . . the game itself changed. By raiding the depositors’ accounts, a major central bank has gone where they would not previously have dared. The Rubicon has been crossed.”
Bail-out Is Out, Bail-in Is In: Time for Some Publicly-owned Banks
By Ellen Brown
May 1, 2013 - 3:12:15 AM
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April 30, 2013
Bail-out is Out, Bail-in is In
Time for Some Publicly-Owned Banks
“[W]ith Cyprus . . . the game itself changed. By raiding the depositors’ accounts, a major central bank has gone where they would not previously have dared. The Rubicon has been crossed.”The crossing of the Rubicon into the confiscation of depositor funds was not a one-off emergency measure limited to Cyprus. Similar “bail-in” policies are now appearing in multiple countries. (See my earlier articles here.) What triggered the new rules may have been a series of game-changing events including the refusal of Iceland to bail out its banks and their depositors; Bank of America’s commingling of its ominously risky derivatives arm with its depository arm over the objections of the FDIC; and the fact that most EU banks are now insolvent. A crisis in a major nation such as Spain or Italy could lead to a chain of defaults beyond anyone’s control, and beyond the ability of federal deposit insurance schemes to reimburse depositors.
—Eric Sprott, Shree Kargutkar, “Caveat Depositor”
The new rules for keeping the too-big-to-fail banks alive: use creditor funds, including uninsured deposits, to recapitalize failing banks.
But isn’t that theft?
Perhaps, but it’s legal theft. By law, when you put your money into a deposit account, your money becomes the property of the bank. You become an unsecured creditor with a claim against the bank. Before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was instituted in 1934, U.S. depositors routinely lost their money when banks went bankrupt. Your deposits are protected only up to the $250,000 insurance limit, and only to the extent that the FDIC has the money to cover deposit claims or can come up with it.
The question then is, how secure is the FDIC?
Can the FDIC Go Bankrupt?In 2009, when the FDIC fund went $8.2 billion in the hole, Chairwoman Sheila Bair assured depositors that their money was protected by a hefty credit line with the Treasury. But the FDIC is funded with premiums from its member banks, which had to replenish the fund. The special assessment required to do it was crippling for the smaller banks, and that was just to recover $8.2 billion. What happens when Bank of America or JPMorganChase, which have commingled their massive derivatives casinos with their depositary arms, is propelled into bankruptcy by a major derivatives fiasco? These two banks both have deposits exceeding $1 trillion, and they both have derivatives books with notional values exceeding the GDP of the world.
Bank of America Corporation moved its trillions in derivatives (mostly credit default swaps) from its Merrill Lynch unit to its banking subsidiary in 2011. It did not get regulatory approval but just acted at the request of frightened counterparties, following a downgrade by Moody’s. The FDIC opposed the move, reportedly protesting that the FDIC would be subjected to the risk of becoming insolvent if BofA were to file for bankruptcy. But the Federal Reserve favored the move, in order to give relief to the bank holding company. (Proof positive, says former regulator Bill Black, that the Fed is working for the banks and not for us. “Any competent regulator would have said: ‘No, Hell NO!’”)
The Cyprus Wakeup Call
Robert Teitelbaum wrote in a May 2011 article titled “The Case Against Favored Treatment of Derivatives”:
. . . Dodd-Frank did not touch favored status [of derivatives] and despite all the sound and fury, . . . there are very few signs from either party that anyone with any clout is suddenly about to revisit that decision and simplify bankruptcy treatment. Why? Because for all its relative straightforwardness compared to more difficult fixes, derivatives remains a mysterious black box to most Americans . . . . [A]s the sense of urgency to reform passes . . . we return to a situation of technical interest to only a few, most of whom have their own particular self-interest in mind.
But that was in 2011, before the Cyprus alarm bells went off. It is time to pry open the black box, get educated, and get organized. Here are three things that need to be done for starters:
* Protect depositor funds from derivative raids by repealing the super-priority status of derivatives.
* Separate depository banking from investment banking by repealing the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 and reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act.
* Protect both public and private revenues by establishing a network of publicly-owned banks, on the model of the Bank of North Dakota.
For more information on the public bank option, see here. Learn more at the Public Banking Institute conference June 2-4 in San Rafael, California, featuring Matt Taibbi, Birgitta Jonsdottir, Gar Alperovitz and others.
ELLEN BROWN is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how a private banking oligarchy has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are http://WebofDebt.com, http://EllenBrown.com, and http://PublicBankingInstitute.org.