Why does a bank robber rob banks?
“Because that’s where the money is.”
Or so goes the legendary response by the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton (who later denied ever saying it).
So why is the new progressive Governor-Elect of New Jersey (a former Obama Administration Ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive named Phil Murphy) proposing a “state bank”?
Why, maybe that’s because taxpayers are where the money is?
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy often told a story on the campaign trail about how, as a relative newcomer to statewide politics, few people in New Jersey had even heard of him before he jumped into this year’s governor’s race. After his victory last week, the same could be said about one of Murphy’s core fiscal-policy proposals â a plan to launch a state-run public bank in New Jersey. The type of financial institution envisioned by Murphy would take state-government funds now deposited in accounts with large commercial banks, including those based overseas, and use them to back low-interest loans that would serve the public’s interest in New Jersey, including student debt, infrastructure investments, and small-business lending.
New Jersey already has the third-highest state and local taxes in the nation (behind only its neighbor New York and nearby Connecticut), thanks to a double whammy in an income tax and high property taxes generally credited with supporting the largesse of generous salaries and benefits for legions of public-sector employees.
One problem is where that state bank will get its money. The progressive Governor-Elect Murphy declares, “That’s our money!” Yet there is no thought to returning it to overtaxed taxpayers — not when there’s votes to buy and a money pot whose bottom is not yet visible. Because when Murphy and his progressive do-gooder allies use the first-person plural pronoun, they are referring to the government and not the people.
As politicians in the bluest of the blue states learn that promising endless “free” stuff, particularly when it’s paid for by political opponents and disfavored constituencies, is a recipe for getting elected, perhaps attacking liberals and progressives for wanting to raise taxes will no longer be a winning campaign argument. Not when many voters are net recipients of government monies, meaning, they simply don’t pay taxes. However, a “state bank” could cause numerous undesirable effects beyond taxes to infinity, beyond encouraging inflation.
Consider how banks work, and then consider the very premise of Murphy’s “state bank” is that it would step in where greedy conventional for-profit banks supposedly fail “to serve the community.” The suspicion here is that the state bank will be giving “low-interest” loans to people or businesses which otherwise are not getting loans on the terms they want, or at all.
When you seize the money earned and saved by the homeowner with an 800 FICO score, to underwrite a loan for his deadbeat neighbor in foreclosure who’s got a 520 FICO score, you aren’t being generous or compassionate. You are creating a moral hazard, and an immoral condition.
The second problem arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of — no, it is a fundamental disregard for — how a conventional bank works. A bank makes loans, because it makes money off the interest. It must put the capital to use. However, there’s the risk of nonpayment, of borrower defaults. Banks “fail” when they suffer too many nonperforming loans. No one wants to talk about this, because it involves acknowledging that the collateral is bad, that the bank made a mistake, that it issued a mortgage worth more than the underlying collateral to a bad credit risk on even worse terms (like the infamous no-income-no-assets-no-problem mortgages).
The lesson of the last decade’s housing bubble and nonperforming mortgages (of which many still are on the books of the largest lenders) apparently is going to be ignored for as long as there is a large supply of “marks” available to shoulder the eventual burden. So we can expect that the New Jersey state bank — and its copycats in other states, of that you can be certain — will soon start making bad lending decisions to borrowers of either questionable credit risk or otherwise connected to various “social justice” initiatives.
Then, when the loans start to “go bad” and go into default, you can expect the state bank to start playing “winners and losers” when deciding whose collateral to go after. Your car dealership may be seized, while the marijuana farm may be allowed forbearance on its defaulted loan. And just think what mischief can be made by politically-connected local prosecutors who can use their “discretion” to choose whom to investigate and prosecute, all to serve a progressive political agenda whose singular goal is to transform the society.
Taxpayers across America should shudder at the thought of government-run banks. Because those banks would be deploying our capital, raised from taxes and from government debt, often sold to foreign bond buyers like the Russians and Chinese. But without the nasty profit motive — which in plain English also amounts to old-fashioned accountability to savings account depositors like you and me — to ensure loan officers only make loans most likely to be repaid, the state bank is likely to accomplish only three things.
A new set of winners: tomorrow’s sellers of assets at inflated prices due to the availability of new credit for car loans, home loans, college loans and small business loans, often with no regard for the terms or creditworthiness of the borrower (and perhaps little to no expectation of repayment).
A new set of losers: Since the premise of a state bank is, we are told, to serve the poor and often first-generation immigrants or members of traditionally-underserved “minority” communities, we can expect the debt and wrecked credit scores from defaulting loans to be shouldered by these same groups. Tomorrow’s college students may be in greater debt than the current generation’s. More people may end up renting, as bad credit is no guarantee of affordability against inflated and rising home prices.
The result? Another generation headed for practical indentured servitude. The difference? This time, the lender will be the government.
A second set of repeat losers: These will be the owners of anything which can be indirectly collateralized to cover those loans. We’re talking property owners and the middle-class income producers. Future tax streams can — and in all likelihood must — be “securitized” to cover delinquent loans.
Again, the party able to place liens on stressed property owners for unpaid taxes? The government.
The rich white guy ex-Goldman Sachs may be able to escape checking his privilege while playing Robin Hood. The reality is that he’s playing the Pied Piper, but only as long as he plays the tune called by his decidely unmerry band of progressive, envious knaves, rejects and scalawags who now threaten to turn New Jersey today — and your state tomorrow — into a land of serfs beholden to the do-gooder lords of the manor.