Gouging banks: a good focus for Occupy Wall Street

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NEW FEE: Bank America debit card fee raises ruckus.
  • NEW FEE: Bank America debit card fee raises ruckus.
Joe Nocera reviews (link corrected) Bank America's gouging decision to impose a $5 monthly debit card fee. Blame it on deregulation. Blame it on greed. But don't expect fee-gouging to go away.

And they wonder why people are mad at Wall Street. The Republican messaging machine — oiled with Koch money — could harness that ragtag, but spreading Occupy Wall Street demonstration into something potent. Tax millionaires. Harness the banks. Provide health care like the rest of the developed world. (Not that the Repubs would ever countenance such messages; they just know how to do it.)

Writes Nocera:

President Obama got it right the first time: Banks don’t have an inherent right to oversized profits. No industry does. Banks play a special role in society, and they get special protections from the government. In return, government has the right to impose special responsibilities.

Every person needs a bank, no matter how rich or poor. The government will never force Bank of America — or any other bank — to reduce or eliminate its fees; it doesn’t have the nerve. But, at the least, it could insist that banks display their fees in a uniform way so that customers can compare how they’re being gouged and make banking decisions on that basis. That kind of reform could stir competition and bring down fees.

This, of course, is precisely what the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is supposed to do — and would do if the Senate Republicans would ever allow a director to be approved.

Speaking of debit card fees: I heard a new theory for a partial explanation of the financial shortage of the Arkansas state fund — financed by court costs — that pays for some state court salaries. Some locales have noticed a drop in fees from hot check courts. Are there fewer hot checks because of the growing ubiquity of the use of debit cards?

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