For years, the movie It’s a Wonderful Life was an annual holiday favorite–and it was always shown on at least one of the major channels–Now it’s not so easy to find. I have wondered if it’s because of the relevance of this film today–and not just its age.
There are many beautiful and inspiring messages of love and community in this movie. The one I want to talk about here is the contrast between George Bailey’s bank and the bank of the villainous greedy banker Mr. Potter who turned the town into a nightmare in George Bailey’s vision of what the town would have been like without his life (and bank)–a vision which was revealed to him by the angel Clarence after George says that he wishes he had never been born after his Uncle Billy misplaces a large sum of the bank’s money.
In the movie, George has the power to make choices about who he loans money to–and for what purposes. Most of his loans appear to be to homeowners for affordable housing, notably in Bailey Park–an affordable housing development–and possibly some of the town’s small businesses, like the department store, movie theatre, etc. In contrast, Mr. Potter’s bank funds high-rent apartments owned by Potter–(and in George’s vision of what the town would be without him)–Potter’s bank has taken over the town–and it became filled with brothels, sleazy nightclubs, and bars, fighting on the streets, and police trying to restore order.
Today, decisions about whose loans are funded and for what purpose–are often made by underwriters living in far-removed places rather than by individual local bankers. The for-profit banking system is tightly controlled by the International Bank of Settlements and its rules. Only government banks and nonprofit banks appear to have the opportunity to operate by different priorities.
Why does this matter? Because a DIFFERENT WORLD IS POSSIBLE!
What if your mortgage was held by a nonprofit or government bank and your interest rate was zero with only an annual processing fee? How much faster would your home be paid off?
What if the apartment you rent was owned by a nonprofit whose goal was to provide safe, affordable housing–instead of maximizing profit–how low would your rent be? Would it affect your ability to live near the schools you want your children to attend–your ability to save for a home–go on an actual vacation?
What if you want to build a community playground–and instead of the bank refusing to grant you a loan because a community playground is not “private collateral”–the bank grants your loan because it chooses to invest in and care about its community. What if money wasn’t the ONLY return on investment that banks considered? What if healthy families and communities, low crime rates, volunteerism, and other factors were considered valuable returns on a bank’s investments?
What if your bank only funded projects and businesses that enhance community life, such as organic farms, local made-in-the-U.S. goods production, affordable housing, solar and wind energy projects, etc.?
What if your bank took its profits and invested them in local nonprofits to help fund projects such as community centers, children and youth recreation centers, services for seniors, etc.
I looked up the profits for the several of the largest big banks–and, according to Bloomberg , the ten largest U.S. banks earned about $10 billion EACH!!!–PER QUARTER!!!–last year–$117 BILLION TOGETHER in the SECOND QUARTER OF 2017 ALONE! That’s $468 BILLION PER YEAR!!!
What if all of those profits were invested back into local communities instead of lining the pockets of the already rich?
What if banks funded local cooperatives instead of corporations?
What if banks gave loans to filling stations to make the transition to electric vehicle charging stations–starting with a few and switching completely over to electric within a few years?
What if banks prioritized loans for electric vehicles and conversion to electric vehicles?
What if banks only funded new home construction that included solar roofs–or off-the-grid solar or wind capabilities for at least one room in every home–so that emergency evacuation would not be necessary during extended power outages?
What if banks used some of their extra funds to provide scholarships to help pay for caregivers for families with disabled, elderly, chronically mentally or physically ill people, babies, or very young children under three?
What if–instead of the most important things in life being so hard to FUND–the most important things in life were FUNDED FIRST–and everything else took a back seat to making sure everyone has the basic necessities of life through proper community and government priorities!
First, we have to believe that the world can be different! Then we can work in our communities to create nonprofit banks or government banks.
Sadly, too many credit unions have gone the way of big banks in the sense that they are often governed by a board of directors removed from local communities and they use underwriters who follow similar rules as the status quo.
Substantial and meaningful change is needed for families and communities!
One positive example is the Center for Financial Independence and Innovation, which is an Atlanta nonprofit that guarantees loans for persons who are disabled who need to purchase medical equipment, handicapped vehicles, or make changes to their home to accommodate their disability. They work in partnership with credit unions, but they guarantee the loans at a dramatically lower interest rate that makes the loan much more affordable.
The Bank of North Dakota is an example of a government-owned bank. According to Wikipedia, “The Bank of North Dakota is a state-owned-run financial institution, based in Bismarck, North Dakota. It is the only state-owned facility of its type in the United States other than the Puerto Rico Government Development Bank.” The Bank of North Dakota has remained financially viable and stable despite banking crises over the past decade because of its relative financial independence compared to private for-profit banks, it is guaranteed by the state rather than the Federal Reserve, and it has somewhat different banking parameters and procedures.
These examples give glimpses into what can be done–yet so much more is really possible.
Farmers used to create collaboratives to work together to pay off each other’s mortgages more quickly–for example. There is a long history in the U.S. of small farmers working together in a variety of important ways.
In Georgia, about half of al the electricity is conveyed through power lines that are run by cooperatives. These cooperatives branches are members of a larger cooperative that has its own cooperative bank (located out of state).
The idea of a nonprofit bank created to help increase individual home ownership, affordable housing, and paid-in-full mortgages–especially among senior citizens is a very worthy project and could help young families, singles trying to pay off a mortgage on one income, people on hourly seasonal incomes, those who are temporarily unemployed or laid off, and seniors to be able to stay in their homes (instead of having to live in a nursing home–many of which are neglectfully understaffed). For example, why couldn’t mortgage payments be simply frozen for a couple months during hardships. If there was no interest or very low interest, this would not incur a significant hardship on the homeowner and could keep the mortgage from going into foreclosure.
When people have more disposable income, local small businesses and services flourish, employment opportunities and community life expands and improves.
The trickle-down effect of funding big corporations has always been a lie–it doesn’t work. Why should we trust big corporations to stop doing what they have been doing for centuries–literally–which is giving big bonuses to top-earning CEOs and executives, maximizing their stock options, slashing pensions right before making off with millions as the company goes into bankruptcy, moving factories overseas, using sweatshops instead of U.S. workers, fighting labor unions, paying unlivable wages, polluting the air and water and injecting pollution into the ground below their factories, and so much more. While it’s true that not all corporations do all of these things, the abuses outweigh the benefits in today’s transnational corporate monopoly business structure–which is completely different from local small mom and pop businesses–which are often crushed by large corporations.
A nonprofit bank could change community life–especially if there was one in every community! Food for thought this season of Christmas and other holidays–when we think about bringing truly transforming gifts into the lives of those we love and our communities.
A nonprofit bank could stir community spirit, togetherness, and empower people to talk and work together–to expect and not settle for anything less than truly humane and livable lives, communities, incomes, and neighborhoods from our legislatures and our government.
After all, isn’t that what government is supposed to be for? And isn’t Christmas (and many other seasonal holidays) about caring for each other as ONE BODY–ONE FAMILY–AND ONE HUMAN COMMUNITY in which EVERYONE MATTERS?
This Christmas–let’s remember that in Jesus’ ministry–there were no outsiders. He included everyone that everyone else excluded. It was only the rich and powerful who were threatened by Him who excluded themselves–Jesus never excluded them–but Jesus never agreed to be silent about the ways they were exploiting their distortions of religion and politics to get rich–because He deeply Loved and cared about those who were poor, older women who were widowed, beggars, those who were disabled, disillusioned, diseased, repentant, outcasts, foreigners, women, children–the list goes on and on. He gathered in the outcasts and He Loved the Sacred Community with His Whole Heart–and that meant that cultural norms and exclusion had to be challenged and transformed by the opening of peoples’ Hearts–and the pseudo-religious and political exploitation of the power brokers had to be challenged–so the exploitive rich and powerful killed Him.
Jesus’s Message and Example is Alive–and It is a Living Vital Example of What Is Possible! We can create Communities Where Everyone Matters! We just have to TRY!