The Municipal Banking Movement: An Opportunity for Baltimore

Vanatta, S. H. (2019) The Municipal Banking Movement: An Opportunity for Baltimore. Project Report. Abell Foundation, Baltimore, MD.

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Executive Summary: Across the United States, local governments are reconsidering their relationships with private financial service firms. As finance has come to dominate the U.S. economy in recent decades—and as the financial services industry has become increasingly concentrated in a few gigantic banks—community resources seem to flow from Main Street to Wall Street, with few channels of return. The banking industry, by design, places private profits ahead of public service. Banks like Wells Fargo, meanwhile, remain mired in scandal. Communities are ready for change. A countermovement is growing. Local governments and community activists seek to reclaim control of their financial destinies through the direct public ownership of financial institutions. Public banks, owned by state or municipal governments and dedicated to public service, have a proven track record of promoting local economic development and financial inclusion in the U.S. and abroad. Banking is a privilege, a public trust. Advocates of public banking argue that it should be in public hands. This report makes a preliminary case for public banking in Baltimore. It does so, first, by examining a new chapter in Baltimore’s history of disinvestment. Across the city, large commercial banks are closing branches, shutting down critical points of financial access for individuals and small businesses and contributing to ongoing patterns of financial exclusion in the city’s marginalized communities. Financialization has repackaged redlining. From this foundation, the report then turns to the growing public banking movement, examining how advocates in other places have conceptualized public banking as a productive solution to challenges like those facing Baltimore. In cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York, and Santa Fe, advocates are advancing public banking under two rubrics: “Government-led” public banking, advanced by state and municipal officials, focuses on developing public financial institutions that serve the needs of local governments and generate broad-based economic development. “Community-led” public banking, led by social justice advocates, dedicates more attention to overcoming financial exclusion and ensures capital flows to traditionally marginalized communities. Both government-led and community-led approaches to public banking can point to successful precedents in U.S. and global banking markets. The report provides brief case studies of three such models: the Bank of North Dakota, German Sparkassen, and postal banking. It also places these examples in conversation with the dominant, privately directed, public service financial infrastructure that U.S. policymakers have long preferred. With these examples in mind, the report returns to Baltimore, where the city’s existing network of Community Financial Development Institutions and new Neighborhood Investment Initiative Fund offer promising foundations for more ambitious public banking goals. But where city leaders are using finance to add resources to neglected communities, public banking can multiply these contributions, magnifying their impact. The report concludes with a simple recommendation: Conduct a feasibility study. The failure of private finance to provide for the needs of the city and its diverse communities demands public response. Public banking is one such response, one that requires thoughtful and in-depth study.

Item Type:Research Reports or Papers (Project Report)
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Vanatta, Dr Sean
Authors: Vanatta, S. H.
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HG Finance
H Social Sciences > HJ Public Finance
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Publisher:Abell Foundation

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