On July 28, 2019, the Bank of North Dakota turned 100. This venerable and extremely successful public bank forms a major part of the model for contemporary public banking.
Thomas M. Hanna and Adam Simpson commemorate the Bank of North Dakota, and our current movement, in In These Times:
That a public bank is resonating with people across the United States today shouldn’t be surprising. If we look back at the conditions that led a diverse group of farmers, socialists and populists to struggle against the odds to create the BND in the first place—corporate domination, an economy hobbled by debt burdens, gaping inequalities, ineffective reformists, bought politicians— we find they are remarkably similar to those we face today in our new “gilded age.”
At the dawn of the 20th century, the remote and relatively new state of North Dakota was firmly under the control of corporate interests. Heavily indebted small farmers and small businesspeople were beholden to terms set by out-of-state railroad companies and grain monopolies (both backed by big corporate banks) in order to access broader markets. The railroads in particular (which owned vast swathes of land in the state) were pernicious tax avoiders, depriving the government of desperately needed development funds. The state government was easily captured by these powerful interests … Early activist efforts to break this political and economic stranglehold through regulation and legal action were undermined by threatened capital strikes (for example, corporate owners threatened to close their grain elevators when faced with regulation in 1891). Ultimately, these reform efforts had no answer to the central problem: that the large corporations of the day had the power to dictate economic conditions and relationships and the state lacked the financial means to advance alternatives.
After describing the bank’s progress, and its current success, Hanna and Simpson go on to the more familiar information about our movement:
In California and elsewhere in the country, public banking has very quickly moved from a fringe interest to a mainstream political issue. This is testament to both the long-term success of examples like the Bank of North Dakota and to the efforts of a new generation of activists and movement builders who, like their predecessors 100 years ago, understand how critically important control of finance and capital is to the hope of building a more equitable, just and democratic world.
We look forward to opening a bank soon, and starting to count the years toward a centenary of public banking in the East Bay!