The Bank of North Dakota has a return on equity of 25-26% and has contributed over $300 million to the state (its only shareholder) in the past decade — a notable achievement for a state with a population of only 600,000.
Timothy Canova is Professor of International Economic Law at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, California. In a June 2011 paper called
“The Public Option: The Case for Parallel Public Banking Institutions,” he compares North Dakota’s financial situation to California’s. He writes of North Dakota and its state-owned bank:
The state deposits its tax revenues in the Bank, which in turn ensures that a high portion of state funds are invested in the state economy. In addition, the Bank is able to remit a portion of its earnings back to the state treasury . . . . Thanks in part to these institutional arrangements, North Dakota is the only state that has been in continuous budget surplus since before the financial crisis and it has the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
He then compares the dire situation in California:
In contrast, California is the largest state economy in the nation, yet without a state-owned bank, is unable to steer hundreds of billions of dollars in state revenues into productive investment within the state. Instead, California deposits its many billions in tax revenues in large private banks which often lend the funds out-of-state, invest them in speculative trading strategies (including derivative bets against the state’s own bonds), and do not remit any of their earnings back to the state treasury. Meanwhile, California suffers from constrained private credit conditions, high unemployment levels well above the national average, and the stagnation of state and local tax receipts. The state’s only response has been to stumble from one budget crisis to another for the past three years, with each round of spending cuts further weakening its economy, tax base, and credit rating.
Not all states have oil, of course (and it’s hardly a sustainable basis for an economy), but all could learn from the state-owned bank that allows North Dakota to capitalize on its resources to full advantage. States that deposit their revenues and invest their capital in large Wall Street banks are giving this economic opportunity away.