Structural Reform: The Case for Public State Banks

Meet Occupy Wall Street’s Favorite Banker

By Ryan Holeywell
SolidarityEconomy.net via Governing Magazine

Jan 4, 2012 – Try to find a bank president that’s beloved by supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s not impossible. You’ll just have to travel to North Dakota.

Meet Eric Hardmeyer, who bears the unlikely distinction of being perhaps the only banker in America who, in addition to being embraced by Wall Street protesters, has been exalted by the likes of Michael Moore, Mother Jones magazine, and the Progressive States Network, among other progressive stalwarts.

That’s because Hardmeyer heads the Bank of North Dakota (BND), the country’s only publicly-owned state bank. The institution, located ironically enough in a solidly red state, has become the darling of progressives who have become frustrated with corporate banks they say helped cause the financial crisis and resulting credit crunch.

Now, state lawmakers nationwide are pushing for the North Dakota model to be replicated in their home states. Since 2010, state lawmakers in at least 16 states have introduced bills to create a state bank, something similar, or study the issue, according to a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures. So far, momentum is slow. The movement has yet to produce another Bank of North Dakota, but advocates are hoping to raise the issue again in 2012 legislative sessions. Their pitch: publicly-owned banks can help create jobs, generate revenue for the state, strengthen small banks, and lower the cost of borrowing for local governments by offering loans below market rate.

 

Hardmeyer, who was named bank president in 2001, hasn’t always been such a well-known figure. But his profile has been raised over the last year – including in Bloomberg BusinessWeek — and now he regularly fields calls from state lawmakers and other officials inquiring about his institution. “There hasn’t been a big push anywhere that I’m aware of until recently,” said Hardmeyer in a late December interview with Governing.  “They’re interested in how it works, why it works, [and] what the roadblocks are.”

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