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2020-06-11 — commondreams.org

In March 2020, under cover of a national crisis, the Fed therefore flung the doors open to its discount window, where only banks could borrow. Previously, banks were reluctant to apply there because the interest was at a penalty rate and carried a stigma, signaling that the bank must be in distress. But that concern was eliminated when the Fed announced in a March 15 press release that the interest rate had been dropped to 0.25% (virtually zero). The reserve requirement was also eliminated, the capital requirement was relaxed, and all banks in good standing were offered loans of up to 90 days, "renewable on a daily basis." The loans could be continually rolled over, and no strings were attached to this interest-free money -- no obligation to lend to small businesses, reduce credit card rates, or write down underwater mortgages. Even J.P. Morgan Chase, the country's largest bank, has acknowledged borrowing at the Fed's discount window for super cheap loans.

The Fed's scheme worked, and demand for repo loans plummeted. But unlike in Canada, where big banks slashed their credit card interest rates to help relieve borrowers during the COVID-19 crisis, US banks did not share this windfall with the public. Canadian interest rates were cut by half, from 21% to 11%; but US credit card rates dropped in April only by half a percentage point, to 20.15%. The giant Wall Street banks continued to favor their largest clients, doling out CARES Act benefits to them first, emptying the trough before many smaller businesses could drink there.

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State and local governments with a mandate to serve the public interest deserve to be treated as well as private Wall Street banks that have repeatedly been found guilty of frauds on the public. How can states get parity with the banks? If Congress won't address that need, states can borrow interest-free at the Fed's discount window by forming their own publicly-owned banks. For more on that possibility, see my earlier article here.

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