Franklin Delano Roosevelt. [Eli Christman / CC BY 2.0]
By Ellen Brown / Original to ScheerPost
Danny Davis’ H.R. 6422 would enable the US Treasury to issue money directly into the economy to fund infrastructure projects instead of borrowing it from private banks and increasing government debt. There are historical precedents, with Alexander Hamilton’s “American System,” with Lincoln’s Greenbacks and with FDR’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation.
Millions of Americans have joined the ranks of the unemployed, and government relief checks and savings are running out; meanwhile, the country still needs trillions of dollars in infrastructure. Putting the unemployed to work on those infrastructure projects seems an obvious solution, especially given that the $600 or $700 stimulus checks Congress is planning on issuing will do little to address the growing crisis. Various plans for solving the infrastructure crisis involving public-private partnerships have been proposed, but they’ll invariably result in private investors reaping the profits while the public bears the costs and liabilities. We have relied for too long on private, often global, capital, while the Chinese run circles around us building infrastructure with credit simply created on the books of their government-owned banks.
Earlier publicly-owned U.S. national banks and U.S. Treasuries pulled off similar feats, using what Sen. Henry Clay, U.S. statesman from 1806 to 1852, named the “American System” – funding national production simply with “sovereign” money and credit. They included the First (1791-1811) and Second (1816-1836) Banks of the United States, President Lincoln’s federal treasury and banking system,* and President Franklin Roosevelt’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) (1932-1957).
Even the Federal Reserve with its “quantitative easing” cannot fund infrastructure without driving up federal expenditures or debt, at least without changes to the Federal Reserve Act.
HR 6422, The National Infrastructure Bank Act of 2020
A promising new bill for a national infrastructure bank modeled on the RFC and the American System, H.R. 6422, was filed by Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., in March. The National Infrastructure Bank of 2020 (NIB) is projected to create $4 trillion or more in bank credit money to rebuild the nation’s rusting bridges, roads, and power grid; relieve traffic congestion; and provide clean air and water, new schools and affordable housing. It will do this while generating up to 25 million union jobs paying union-level wages. The bill projects a net profit to the government of $80 billion per year, which can be used to cover infrastructure needs that are not self-funding (broken pipes, aging sewers, potholes in roads, etc.). The bill also provides for substantial investment in “disadvantage communities,” those defined by persistent poverty.
The American System: Sovereign Money and Credit
U.S. precedents for funding internal improvements with “sovereign credit” – credit issued by the national government rather than borrowed from the private banking system – go back to the American colonists’ paper scrip, colonial Pennsylvania’s “land bank”, and the First U.S. Bank of Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Treasury Secretary. Hamilton proposed to achieve the constitutional ideal of “promoting the general welfare” by nurturing the country’s fledgling industries with federal subsidies for roads, canals, and other internal improvements; protective measures such as tariffs; and easy credit provided through a national bank. Production and the money to ﬁnance it would all be kept “in house,” without incurring debt to foreign ﬁnanciers. The national bank would promote a single currency, making trade easier, and would issue loans in the form of “sovereign credit.” ’
Senator Henry Clay called this model the “American System” to distinguish it from the “British System” that left the market to the “invisible hand” of “free trade,” allowing big monopolies to gobble up small entrepreneurs, and foreign bankers and industrialists to exploit the country’s labor and materials. After the charter for the First US Bank expired in 1811, Congress created the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 on the American System model.
On that model, in 1862 Abraham Lincoln issued U.S. Notes or Greenbacks directly from the U.S. Treasury, allowing Lincoln’s government not only to avoid an exorbitant debt to British bankers and win the Civil War, but to fund major economic development, including tying the country together with the transcontinental railroad – an investment that actually turned a profit for the government.
From Roosevelt’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation (1932-57) to HR 6422
The American president dealing with an economic situation most closely resembling that today, however, was Franklin D. Roosevelt. America’s 32nd president resolved massive unemployment and infrastructure problems by greatly expanding the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) set up by his predecessor Herbert Hoover. The RFC was a remarkable publicly-owned credit machine that allowed the government to finance the New Deal and World War II without turning to Congress or the taxpayers [or private banks] for appropriations.