A Money Coach in Canada

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Well this is a little odd.

In Chicago, nearly every single tree on the street downtown has a price attached to it: The value it will return to the environment over the coming year.

Apparently for every $1.00 the City spends on tending the tree, it will return $2.70 in cleaner air, reduced need for air condition due to shade provided, and helping filter polluted water before it goes back into the City sewer system.

Makes you think! Should we be billing the equivalent for every tree that gets cut down?

Dear Vancity,

When I worked for your subsidiary, there was much, and worthy, soul-searching going on:   Who were we and How would we show up in the marketplace?

If ever there was a time to stake your ground, surely it’s now!

It’s now, when a handful of your gutsy neighbours (who may even bank with you?) walked straight into the heart of your turf, the financial powerbrokers on Wall Street, and raised their 200 or so fists defying what financial institutions have become. And sparked a movement.

It’s now, when thousands  – millions?? – of Spaniards (oh!  those Spaniards!) spilled into the streets for 15O, indignant ones, speaking against the savage consequences of capitalist structures unchecked (uncheckable?) by political will (euphemistically speaking)

It’s now, when thousands of Oakland folks have tasted tear gas (including this woman in a wheelchair) for insisting that people come first:

It’s now, when this kid PWNS Fox News (for once, thank god, for once):

and when a Pulitzer Prize winner PWND Kevin O’Leary, Canada’s own lame-ass apologist for the worst of capitalism:

and when young mid-riff baring, cardboard placard bearing girls are corralled into red netting and then peppersprayed

So. In light of corralled girls and teargassed wheel-chair bound women and articulate youth and the hashtag #occupy showing up here, there, everywhere, does Vancity have something to offer? Yes, this vid gives a glimpse of a better way. It’s inspiring.

But it’s not a manifesto, and if ever a ballsy manifesto (nothing pretty, please! and no slick marketing!) was needed from a financial institution, one whose DNA is still gritty and radical even if tamed over the years, it’s needed now. Is a credit union something more than a kinder, gentler bank? I’m listening. And I hope about 99% of Canadian citizens are too.

Photo Credit: Net_efekt

Work with me here.

Here’s the situation. Based on a true story.

You run a well established bank – let’s say, a Canadian bank called CanadaBank.

You borrow $Millions from Canadians by issuing Citizens Savings Bonds and offer them decent interest.

You take that money you’ve raised and lend it out at higher rate to another country, ’cause that’s what bankers do, and you’re a banker.  Let’s call it the country of Perezo.

Perezo.  Oh, Perezo.  Perezo is run by a Military General (MG) who keeps law and order, true, but at dear cost to the citizens.

Western Democracy it’s not.

You hear rumours that MG, who promised he’d use the money to build infrastructure for water and transportation, instead siphons off most of it to his relatives and friends and also uses a lot of it to bribe judges. But it’s not really any of your business and  you are getting the loan payments back on time, with interest, which you then give back to your Cdn. citizen Bond holders, keeping the profit.

But then the citizens of Perezo revolt successfully.

Overnight, MG is gone. In his place is a revolutionary, beloved by the people, named Juan. He pledges to end corruption, fire the bribed judges, and free the people MG had imprisoned. He is also contemplating kicking out all foreign businesses.

Your phone rings.  It’s Juan. He wants a meeting with you.  In Perezo. You fly down to meet him, keenly aware that Juan could give a rats ass about you or your bank.

The meeting goes worse than you anticipated. Juan notes how your bank’s money had enabled MG to purchase the guns that had mowed down citizens in the streets. How it paid off judges who imprisoned some of the country’s best thinkers who had dared speak out against MG and his henchmen. And he shrugs off your rebuttals that you had lent it to be used to build infrastructure, asking you, “where is it? Do you see water towers? Do you see good streets?”.

You develop a cold sweat because you realize you may well not see a penny of that money back. And your bank owes it to the people of Canada.

Readers – over to you. Dig deep into that inner armchair economist in you. What would you say to Juan to convince him to honour MG’s commitment to repay the loan?

ps – This is a real situation faced by a top banker. I have a book he recently wrote about his banking adventures, called “Banker to the World“. Chapter One describes how he handled it.  You get the book (maybe) if you take a shot at responding in the comments!  (one book to give away.  if more than one brave soul answers, it will be by random draw)

Photo Credit: UberZombie

The following vid made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Granted, there is likely a measure of posturing going on to convince countries they’d better seriously step up … but neither do I think for a moment these people are being frivolous. Kinda made me want to learn how to hunt and grow my own food. DISCLAIMER: I’m not an economist! Just took a couple courses waaaaay back in the day. So this is just my armchair take.

A super important thing to understand: Bank Capitalization

When you give your $1 to the Bank, they then can invest that $1 to make profit (of which a teensy portion goes to you as interest).

Usually, banks invest that $1 by loaning to Joe the Pizza Man down the street so he can buy a second pizza stand, or to Cindy so she can buy a bungalow.

But here’s the super-important bit: The Gov’t allows the bank not to simply lend out that $1, but perhaps $8 or more. Why? Because of faith.

Faith that Joe probably will succeed in his biz and pay back not just that $1, but the full $8.

Faith that Cindy will pay her mortgage as agreed upon every month.

Faith that those effing bastards on Wall Street would similarly use the money with integrity as they select investments. They didn’t.

Bank Capitalization refers to how many $1s they in fact have. In short, how much that have that is real, not faith-based. That faith is well and truly shaken.
And all our intricate webs between banks and businesses and countries are seriously frayed.

Photo Credit: komodoro

Don’t flame or tase me: I have some praise for the Conservatives. Yes, I’m still Green – I think business, particularly small business, can save the world if given every opportunity, with the imperative caveat that we (businesses small and large) must incontrovertibly demonstrate the way we do our business is of benefit to people and the planet in addition to being profitable. How anyone can argue with this beats me.
So am I a lefty? Progressive? Conservative? I like to believe I defy right | left categories.

Certainly I’ve been known, though, to publicly protest actions of Canada’s conservatives and my most popular blog post is one in which I went ape-shit about how we in Vancouver used to treat our homeless (arresting them for sleeping outside, for god’s sake). My point? I’m not typically an apologist for the Conservatives.

But.

After my month in England and concentrated doses of BBC reporting and the immediacy of what’s gong on in Greece, I have a deepened respect for policies which get and keep us out of national debt. National debt, just like personal debt, gets a stranglehold on a country, and then takes them down.

Consider this: Greece funded its many worthy social objectives with debt for years. Now, it has to pay nearly 20% (at time of this writing – July) on its bonds. Canada only has to pay 0.65% because of our relatively sane debt levels. Yes, I know much of that should be attributed to Paul Martin under the Liberals. But it also is attributable to Michael Wilson (Finance Min. under Mulroney) and also attributable to the perception that the Conservative Gov’t will keep the debt in check.

What does this mean? It means the same sort of thing that it means for individuals. Because we are (relatively) in good shape on our debt to earnings ratio, we are considered a good risk and just like individuals who have handled their debt well and can get the best interest rates on their credit cards and their mortgages, so Canada can borrow money from other countries and its own citizens at the best rates. This translates to more of our taxes going to programs and less of our money going to dealing with our debt.

I’m good with that. If I’m going to be taxed (and I don’t inherently object to being taxed at all; I want to live in a society that funds the arts and takes care of the vulnerable and funds higher education) I don’t want it to be paying off debt, or worse, simply paying the interest. And if the Conservative Gov’t helps us on that, measured props to them.

Photo credit: British PMO office (somewhat ironic, eh? no photos avail from the Cdn PMO)

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