If Wall Street is nervous about President Biden’s nomination to head an agency overseeing large banks, then they’re probably having conniption fits right now about the U.S. Postal Service.
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that banks big and small are opposing Saule Omarova to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Their issue? As a law professor at Cornell University, Omarova wrote a paper proposing that the Federal Reserve offer consumer bank accounts.
Expectedly, Republicans are flipping out. “Just when you think the Biden Administration can’t get more radical, we get this nominee who praises the Soviet financial system,” tweeted Rep. Robert Aderholt, from Alabama—a claim with no basis in fact.
Keep in mind that Omarova worked in the George W. Bush Treasury Department. She’s far from the second coming of Karl Marx.
Still, it makes sense that Wall Street is scared. Public banking threatens their business model of predatory tactics, like pushing credit cards, charging high fees, and even opening accounts without consumers knowing.
That’s why what the Postal Service just started doing is so remarkable. In September, the agency—after being pushed by postal workers—began offering paycheck-cashing services at several East Coast post offices. Anyone can now redeem paychecks in Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD, Falls Church, VA, and the Bronx in New York City, for Visa gift cards topping out at $500.
That might not sound like a big deal. But for the estimated 7.1 million people in the U.S. who don’t have a bank account, it means they won’t have to rely on shady payday loans with astronomically high interest rates. And the agency expects to expand to bill-paying services and ATMs—what most people use banks for—in the future.
The truth is—and we need to remember this—it’s really not that remarkable. The Postal Service offered postal banking from 1911 to 1967. Less than 10 percent of post offices across the globe do not currently provide basic financial services. Recent polling shows that a strong majority of Democrats and even Republicans support postal banking. California Gov. Gavin Newsom just signed a bill to study a state-level public option for banking services like debit cards.
It only seems remarkable because Wall Street and elected leaders like Rep. Aderholt want us to think it is. It’s actually as American as apple pie—a public good, paid for by all of us, serving all of us, not leaving anyone behind.
Photo by Ildar Sagdejev.