Ellen Brown on how banks rip off municipalities via interest rate swaps

Excerpts from Ellen Brown’s WALL STREET CONFIDENCE TRICK: How “Interest Rate Swaps” Are Bankrupting Local Governments:

 It was a deliberate, manipulated move by the Fed, acting to save the banks from their own folly in precipitating the credit crisis of 2008.  The banks got in trouble, and the Federal Reserve and federal government rushed in to bail them out, rewarding them for their misdeeds at the expense of the taxpayers….

The banks have made outrageous profits by capitalizing on their own misdeeds. They have already been paid several times over: first with taxpayer bailout money; then with nearly free loans from the Fed; then with fees, penalties and exaggerated losses imposed on municipalities and other counterparties under the interest rate swaps themselves.

Bond-Graham writes: “The windfall of revenue accruing to JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and their peers from interest rate swap derivatives is due to nothing other than political decisions that have been made at the federal level to allow these deals to run their course, even while benchmark interest rates, influenced by the Federal Reserve’s rate setting, and determined by many of these same banks (the London Interbank Offered Rate, LIBOR) linger close to zero.”

Why are these swaps so popular, if they can be such a bad deal for borrowers?  Bond-Graham maintains that capitalism as it functions today is completely dependent upon derivatives.  We live in a global sea of variable interest rates, exchange rates, and default rates.  There is no stable ground on which to anchor the economic ship, so financial products for “hedging against risk” have been sold to governments and corporations as essentials of business and trade.  But this “financial engineering” is sold, not by disinterested third parties, but by the very sharks who stand to profit from their counterparties’ loss.  Fairness is thrown out in favor of gaming the system.  Deals tend to be rigged and contracts to be misleading.

How could local governments reduce their borrowing costs and insure against interest rate volatility without putting themselves at the mercy of this Wall Street culture of greed?  One possibility is for them to own some banks.  State and municipal governments could put their revenues in their own publicly-owned banks; leverage this money into credit as all banks are entitled to do; and use that credit either to fund their own projects or to buy municipal bonds at the market rate, hedging the interest rates on their own bonds.

The creation of credit has too long been delegated to a cadre of private middlemen who have flagrantly abused the privilege.  We can avoid the derivatives trap by cutting out the middlemen and creating our own credit, following the precedent of the Bank of North Dakota and many other public banks abroad.

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