In light of the infuriating (but hardly surprising) revelations that banks coordinated with the FBI to monitor, threaten, and shut down Occupy Wall Street as a "terrorist" organization - this while teabaggers marched the streets swinging around loaded assault weapons and brazenly threatening to assassinate public officials under the aegis of major corporations - I think we've come to realize something about the nature of the problem with Wall Street: It isn't that they're above the law - it's that they're below the law, owning the very political and economic foundations from which laws are made and enforced. But rather than whining about it and hoping to self-pity or self-righteous our way to miraculous change, I started wondering why we couldn't just reverse the process that had brought us to this sad state of affairs.
Banks are, for lack of a better term, financial black holes: They exist purely for the purpose of accumulating ownership over all money and all property, and everything they do - loansharking (credit cards, mortgages), money laundering (investment banking), extortion (demanding subsidies, bailouts), and gambling (stock markets) - has the effect of increasing their share of an economy under their control, even when they ostensibly lose money in a given transaction.
As the saying goes, "When you owe the bank $50,000, the bank owns you. When you owe the bank $50 billion, you own the bank." Well, it works both ways, as the 2008 financial collapse demonstrated. So I ask myself, why can't two play at this game? Why can't a profit-making institution be established that is single-mindedly focused on accumulating wealth back from the banks, and that redistributes its gains by offering loans, credit cards, savings, and investments on terms designed to restore the economic viability of the 99% as a whole?
There are credit unions and such which offer favorable terms to their depositors, but these institutions, as far as I can see - not being a financial professional - are beneficial mostly in preventing the wealth of their customers from further being soaked up by the big banks, but are by and large not designed to get any of it back that has already been lost. So I am wondering if there can be an institution specifically designed with the purpose of waging all-out financial war on the banking sector, using its own architecture and practices against it to the benefit of the entire public. I know this is at least conceptually possible, because the idea would simply be another bank, but one obligated to use its assets in a certain, objectively definable way.
Since the US economy, let alone the global economy, is so unwieldy and gargantuan, my first vague thought is that such an institution would need to be implemented by 50 semi-autonomous banks in each state, which themselves might need to be sub-divided among local branches. The national umbrella institution would set parameters and policies which each state and further subdivisions would then figure out how best to implement for conditions in their purview, and all of it would be under a particular kind of ownership structure where every single resident of a given jurisdiction "owns" an equal share and is entitled to the benefits created but cannot directly sell or transfer ownership, nor borrow against it. They can elect management, but the basic framework of the institution is inviolate short of choosing by some super-majority to liquidate the company and distribute its assets as direct cash payments to all owners in a jurisdiction - which would have to be approved by the entire national organization.
Obviously such a thing would start out with many disadvantages: First of all, big banks are criminal organizations, and can and do go to just about any lengths to keep control of the economy - this includes corruption of legislators, regulators, law enforcement organizations, trade bodies, and of course, the media. But being large and powerful, there is degree of inertia involved in how the financial sector recognizes and responds to threats, so there would be time to grow before the pressure brought to bear would become extreme. This is another reason why a semi-autonomous structure with strong local economic foundations is important: An upstart bank floating alone in the vast national/global financial wilderness would be easy prey for a corrupt regulatory body to just make up reasons to screw with it, but a large network of institutions that had accumulated significant capital would be more difficult to disrupt, and have stronger political backing and legal resources.
Another strength would be that, as it grows, such an institution would come to own media properties, protecting news organizations from corporate interference that would otherwise be used against them. We could expect that in any case there would be shrill propaganda campaigns waged against this kind of institution by the big banks that are being drained by it, with programs like CNN Money and of course cable networks CNBC and Fox News basically just making shit up to scare people and provide pretexts for official investigations into anything and nothing. "Is it being secretly funded by North Korea?" "Shocking new evidence that Communist-affiliated bank tied to Sharia advocates." "Marxist bank spreading poverty and witchcraft in Omaha?" The noise would naturally be cover for outright criminal activities waged by the big banks against it, but that should be expected and planned against.
In any event, let's call this bank Trading Places Inc., after the brilliant 1983 class war comedy Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. In the film, a couple of arrogant old billionaire brothers bet each other $1 over what will happen when they debase one of their most successful and loyal executives to a state of desperate poverty and social ostracism and elevate a petty street criminal to a life of luxury, privilege, and respect. One of the brothers bets that success is genetic, and that the former executive will land on his feet and soon be doing well enough on his own while the man from the street will crash and burn; the other bets that both will adapt to their new circumstances and come to reflect their environment. Neither of the brothers cares about the human consequences of their actions - it's all just a game to them.
SPOILER ALERT: The two victims of the charade ultimately end up coming into contact with each other, learn about the bet, and decide that turnabout is fair play - they decide that the best way to get back at rich people is to make them poor, and bet each other $1 that they can impoverish the brothers who had so callously played with their lives while making themselves (and their new friends, a street prostitute and a previously unappreciated butler) rich in the process. Rather than being stingy, miserable, evil, arrogant bastards like the two brothers had been, the four live life generously and happily ever after.
Obviously life is not a movie, but there is a sound principle involved: The reason banks are able to accumulate wealth like they do is not because there is some magical property of greed that makes it uniquely capable of accumulation - it's because banks are a mechanism designed to accomplish it, and there's no reason a similar mechanism cannot be successfully implemented that results in moving money in the other direction. With the one caveat that people couldn't sell their shares in Trading Places Inc. - since if they could, pretty soon it too would just end owned by the big banks - there's no reason you can't build it like a semi-permeable membrane that only allows money to flow in one net direction, the same way that existing banks do.
The ownership structure would need to be somewhat unusual to avoid giving individuals direct property control of the bank, since other banks would just use that to acquire it. It would be "quasi-ownership." Basically, the people who benefit would not actually have direct ownership, so they couldn't sell or borrow against it - and, conversely, probably wouldn't have to pay taxes on it - but the unalterable structure of the corporation would legally obligate it to benefit those people nonetheless through minimum (or even negative) profit-margin lending, direct cash dividends, asset transfers (through whatever mechanism), etc. etc. The details would depend on designing a mechanism that treats wealth-growth in the 99% as its definition of profit rather than wealth growth in the institution itself or, in the case of credit unions, among a specific client base.
I'm sure there are already a multitude of abstruse quasi-Marxian or "syndicalist" economic theories surrounding this, and I really don't care - I don't want to know exactly how this could be done, or what 19th century philosopher opined on the various possibilities that might be involved. I personally don't have the training or inclination to make this happen, because money as a subject in itself bores me to the point of sickness. But this would seem to be the ultimate realization of the thinking behind OWS's Rolling Jubilee program of buying back debt, since rather than just playing the banks' game by their rules and making them even richer for the temporary relief of a few of the hardest-hit, we could finally begin to contain and roll back the power of Cthulhu Wall Street on a practical level.
7:31 AM PT: With an idea like this, I'll accept people saying that it would be took much work for them personally to try, but what I don't accept is the claim that it's too hard to be explored at all. That's just not serious.