VOICES: 'It's time to break up the banks'

WallStProtest2.jpgEditor's Note: Zephyr Teachout, a veteran of various progressives causes and campaigns now based in Durham, NC, is a co-instigator behind A New Way Forward, an effort to push for structural change on Wall Street.

By Zephyr Teachout

Special to Facing South

The great corporations ... are the creatures of the State, and the State not only has the right to control them wherever need of such control is shown... The immediate necessity in dealing with trusts is to place them under the real, not the nominal, control of some sovereign to which, as its creatures, the trusts owe allegiance, and in whose courts the sovereign's orders may be enforced."
- Teddy Roosevelt, Address at Providence, 1902

In Raleigh, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina, and twelve other cities across the country, progressive are planning protests on April 11, against the bank bailouts. These are the product of a bottom-up, grassroots, group of citizens, with a simple, direct and powerful demand: break up the banks, and make sure that no bank ever gets too big to fail.

Join the protests -- or at least the email list -- here.

The motivating idea is that we need to have a long term vision for structural change in our economy. Common sense and history show us that money and power are always related. Political power amassed by concentrated financial power necessarily leads to serious distortions in political decision-making. The loophole for the AIG bonuses is just a small, albeit very public, example of this capture of government.

The argument behind the protests is that we need to respond to the monetary takeover of power on its own terms. As Roosevelt said, corporations are creatures of the state; when they stop serving public ends, we ought reshape them. Even the most noble efforts at campaign
finance reform cannot change the power of big banks to spend money on lobbying and media campaigns. We can reshape the forces that are capable of exercising political power in the first place.

Luckily, there already exist tools to break up "too big" banks: antitrust policy. Antitrust can be the tool that allows us to make sure no company is too big to fail. Call it trustbusting 2.0: No
corporation should be big enough that it can gain illegitimate control over the political process.

The spirit of antitrust has been eviscerated over decades by people like Robert Bork, who argued that antitrust had to be about "efficiency," as if efficiency was a nonpolitical, objective idea we all might measure. Bork and others tried to take the politics, and the power, out of discussions about markets, and that just doesn't work.

One of my favorite Teddy Roosevelt sayings is this: "The hardest lessons to learn are those that are the most obvious." It is obvious that concentrated money will try to buy our political processes, and unless we challenge that, in a deep, structural way, no amount of
small fixes in the short term will change that. Corporate power does not exist outside of us; it is ours to shape, and ours to bring under control.

Join the protests on April 11 (or hold one of your own) -- but even if you can't make it, join A New Way Forward and help us--one week and two days old!--create a new force for structural change in the economy.

The people are too big to fail.