Some activists claim the “American Spring” has begun with the resurgence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I hope so. But for those of us who are not likely to march in the streets, there is something we can do – relocalize our money – now!
Wall Street has rebounded quite nicely from the economic crisis it helped to create. Its recovery was achieved with assistance from a federal government that continues to support a “big corporation” economic policy. Want proof? Just follow the money.
According to Neil Barofsky, inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the financial assistance provided to corporations exceeded $3 trillion.
The U.S. federal government Small Business Jobs Acts created a fund to spur local bank lending to small businesses, releasing just 10 percent of the amount provided to the big banks through TARP.
According to Amy Cortese’s new book, “Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It,” there are fundamental flaws in how the federal government (both Republicans and Democrats) have dealt with the financial recovery. The feds continue to underwrite big investment banks that play roulette with our money.
They have bailed out financial institutions and corporations deemed “too big to fail” and then allowed them to get even bigger. And they subsidize multinational corporations that continue to move jobs offshore.
Federal deregulation has made our financial system a casino for the rich, and they are playing with our money. When Congress repealed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, the relatively conservative banking culture changed radically and became a free-for-all of risky speculation culminating in the collapse of 2008.
According to Cortese, the financial system supports “a massive misallocation of capital away from its most productive uses and toward unproductive, even harmful, ones, such as speculative trading, subprime mortgages, and the latest bubble du jour.”
Our trade, tax and bank policies create a business environment in which exploitative and speculative practices are the norm. Given the financial power of Wall Street, efforts to regulate this dangerous behavior have proven difficult. Politicians that try are labeled “socialist” and marginalized by the electorate.
What can the ordinary person do? Occupy Wall Street is one response. Another is to keep your money close to home. We need to relocalize our money.
Here are some ways to do it:
- Move your savings to a local bank or credit union (for help see the Move Your Money Project).
- Invest 5 to 20 percent of your funds in a Community Development Finance Institution or the Common Good Bank.
- Invest in and buy from local co-cooperatively managed businesses (see the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives for information).
- And of course buy local.
Our corrupt financial system must be reformed, but we can’t wait for the federal government to make the changes necessary. Federal politicians run for election full time and depend on corporate money to stay in office. Wall Street has too much money and power to be reformed by government.
We must take action ourselves and reclaim the power to make the economy work for people, rather than allowing the 1 percent to manipulate the financial system to serve short-term greed.
Impossible, you say? I say believe it.
Begin with small actions like those listed above. Small actions taken by enough people will create a reinforcing feedback loop that can develop into a tidal wave of change. If we start a parade, eventually politicians will want to jump up front and carry our flag. One of the major barriers to change is that too many people just don’t believe it is possible to create real change. I say believe it.
To quote a classic….
“‘I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the White Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again. Draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Believe it. And then relocalize your money – today.
John M. Gerber is a professor in the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture and teaches courses in sustainable agriculture and sustainable living. His writings may be found at www.johnmgerber.com and www.justfoodnow.org. He is also program coordinator of the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture major in Sustainable Food and Farming which offers a 15- credit certificate, a 2- year Associates Degree, a 4-year Bachelor of Sciences degree, and several online classes in Sustainable Food and Farming.