Most Americans opposed TARP. They saw no reason to use taxpayer money for bailing out the very financial institutions that had been parasitically feeding off them for decades. But America is not a democracy. It is no longer even a representative democracy. The banking bailout, the GSE bailout and the subsequent automotive bailout were all rammed down the unwilling throats of the American public by the Goldman-controlled Treasury Department with the help of the Bush administration and congressional Democrats. It was rather like a doctor forcing a rape victim to pay for her own chemotherapy because it would benefit her rapist.
Bipartisan support for the bailout made it clear to all and sundry that at the end of the day, the supposed divide between the Republican and Democratic parties is an imaginary one. Republicans and Democrats are nothing more than a unitary bank party.
But Americans are not as helpless as most of them feel right now. While it is true that their elected “representatives” ignore the limits set by the U.S. Constitution, pay only lip service to the will of the people and have rigged the electoral system so that in some years there is less turnover in the Senate than in the British House of Lords, what the people lack in political power they still retain in economic power, particularly in times of economic contraction.
Political power is easily suborned and misdirected, particularly in a purported democracy with near universal suffrage. Wave a bloody flag or threaten the social order and Republicans will fall readily into line. Threaten to cut the budgets of the myriad of government agencies funding various special interest groups or make noise about “going back to the fifties” and Democrats will do the same. The ease with which the tea party was infiltrated and manipulated by the Republican establishment and the speed with which Occupy Wall Street is being taken over by the Democratic establishment shows that substantive change will never be accomplished through public demonstrations and the threat of numbers at the ballot box.
What did the tea party accomplish? It elected a bunch of Republicans who went ahead and voted exactly as the Democrats they replaced would have. What will Occupy Wall Street accomplish? Nothing even remotely significant.
Economic power is very different because economic activity is cumulative rather than zero-sum. As the nomenklatura of the Soviet Union learned to its dismay, not even totalitarian power wielded by a murderous government can ultimately prevail against the economic power of the people. And economic power is the weapon that the American public can effectively wield against the big banks that the U.S. government has deemed to be their masters, which include Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. While nothing can be done about the investment banks, whose wealth and power relies entirely upon the Washington-Wall Street axis, the same is not true of the depository giants.
Because the depository giants loan out almost all of the money that is deposited with them, they are very highly leveraged and therefore extremely susceptible to being undermined by their depositors. Each dollar deposited in a fractional reserve commercial bank presently supports more than $100 in loans, so each dollar removed from the bank significantly reduces the bank’s capital and, therefore, its margin of error.
Bank of America presently holds more than 12 percent of domestic deposits, or $949 billion. Citigroup has around $861 billion. Wells Fargo has $761 billion in deposits, while JP Morgan Chase has $743 billion. These deposits serve as the financial foundation for all the predatory loan activity, all the insane derivatives gambling, and all the political corruption in which these lawless institutions are engaged. The giant banks believe they can get away with anything, mostly because they have successfully done so for decades. The $5 debit card fees recently announced by Bank of America may be far from the most egregious of their wrongdoings, but sometimes it is the pettiest provocation that proves to be more than the public can bear.
Bank Transfer Day was declared on Nov. 5. The idea is for Americans who have bank accounts with any of the four big banks to simply open a new account at their local credit union, transfer their entire balance to it, then close their old account. This is not revolutionary. It’s not violent, it’s not partisan, and it’s not an action to which even a banking executive could possibly object. It is a wholly legal action. But it sends a very clear and unmistakable message to the banking lords that their hammerlock on political power does not render the American people entirely helpless or subservient.
In “Atlas Shrugged,” the would-be masters of the world learned that they could not force men of talent to work for them. It took nearly 70 years and cost tens of millions of lives, but the Soviets eventually learned the same harsh lesson. Bank Transfer Day has the potential to teach the would-be masters of the dollar that they cannot force men to bank with them or to serve as a backstop for their gambling losses. They may be too big to fail, but they are not too big to transfer.
Now, it’s entirely possible that Bank Transfer Day will fail as completely as the tea party or Occupy Wall Street. Americans who claim to be against banking bailouts but cannot bother to simply move their money from one bank to another are clearly never going to put their money where their mouth is. They are not helpless, but they may be apathetic. If Bank Transfer Day fails, then we can confidently expect the bank party to cheerfully continue with its program of financial rapine, secure in the knowledge that the American public fully merits it.