October 11, 2014

The virtues of postal banking

Yes Magazine -  [An] idea, popularized by journalist David Dayen and law professor Mehrsa Baradaran, would create a public option for credit and help insulate Main Street in the likely event of another financial crisis.

For example, a borrower without access to a commercial bank might typically accept a small loan at an unreasonably high interest rate from a payday lender. If a postal banking system were in place, that customer could instead walk into the local USPS branch and take out a simple loan as a government-provided public service. Due to the restricted nature of postal banking, customers’ access to funds would be comparatively safe from vultures and the whirlwinds of the broader, deeper financial system.

Although the idea seems new here and now, a successful U.S. Postal Saving System already existed from 1911-1967, and similar schemes operate overseas today, including in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the UK.

Though the proposal is not without its critics, there are surprisingly few legal and political hurdles to implementation. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently penned a U.S. News op-ed in earnest support, and just three weeks ago, she joined the Pew Charitable Trusts for a conference in Washington, D.C., where speakers debated common concerns: Postal banking advocates deplored the struggles of the financially insecure, while opponents expressed skepticism regarding the operational capacity of USPS to offer financial services, and questioned the effects of those new services on the federal budget.

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