Saturday, September 19, 2009

Take Control

When critics call President Obama's health reform plans “socialist” they often worry about the overwhelming power of government. The Federal government is very powerful; the worry is justified. But if the same people then go on to say that health care should be in the hands of private business, they forget that private business also is often very large and even more powerful than the Feds. Do you remember that we had to shell out almost a trillion dollars in tax money only last year to save the largest insurance company in the world, as well as Bank of America and other banks because they are “too big to fail”? The goal of business is make money for the owners; the goal of the private insurance company is not to improve your health but its bottom line. Given a choice between a very powerful government, elected by us, and a very large company trying to enrich itself, surely the government is the better choice.
But not by much.
The enemy is neither government, nor business. The great threat comes from BIG government and from BIG business. The time has come for ordinary citizens to take back their lives. Many Americans have been doing this for years. It is time for more of us to turn our backs on the BIG companies to to take back a measure of control over our lives.
We owe the current sky rocketing rates of unemployment and home foreclosures, of poverty and homelessness to the big banks and investment houses who took crazy risks in pursuit of greater profits. But not all banks participated in this madness. The Credit Unions everywhere continued their previous conservative practices. They stayed away from risky mortgages and financial instruments they did not really understand. They continued to take the deposits of their members and to make home and car loans. What makes them different?
Commercial banks tout their service to customers but their real goal is to make as much money for their stockholders as they can. That's what makes them “commercial” banks--they are in it for their profits. Credit Unions are associations of members who put their money in the credit union. These are non-profit banks. They do not serve stock holders but their depositors. They are not run by stockholders in their interest but are run by their members to serve them. If a credit union does have a profit at the end of the year it is distributed back to the members. There are regular meetings of the members who determine the bank's policies.
Credit Unions are democratic organizations owned and controlled by their members, one member one vote, with equal opportunity for participation in setting policies and making decisions. Members are the owners. As such they contribute to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. Credit unions, typically offer better rates, fees and service than for-profit financial institutions. Focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities, including people of modest means, through policies developed and accepted by the members. Most importantly, belonging to a credit union you regain a bit of control over your money, by participating in control over a small business as opposed to being defenseless in front of the huge inter national banking empires.
Credit Unions are one kind of cooperatives. Co-ops enable us to get out from under big business and big government and take back control over our lives. I will write about other co-ops in future columns.