The article "Bankers Fear 'Witch Hunt' in Government Pursuit of Fair Lending Cases" [Aug 2] chronicles the response of bankers, advocates, the Department of Justice itself, and others to "an aggressive push by the Justice Department to investigate fair lending claims..." and "...the launch last year of a special fair-lending unit within Justice's civil rights division...investigating claims of bank discrimination in their credit policies."
The article is an excellent one but I was surprised that it made no mention of the fact that 60 million adults in the United States are largely excluded from our traditional banking system; that banks in every metropolitan area in the United States combine to form a ring around communities of color so as to almost totally exclude them; that banks enjoy the protections of a government license to operate that are generally reserved in our economic system for public utilities; and that most recently banks have fed and continue to feed at the public trough in the form of various subsidies and bail outs that do not yield corresponding benefits to the public at large.
The railing of industry representatives Camden Fine of the Independent Community Bankers of America and Paul Hancock of the law firm of K&L Gates in using the terms "extortion," and "racial loan quotas," and "extremism" to describe the referral by the primary regulators of the 8,000 banks in the United States of 49 cases of suspicious practices to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice last year is all out of proportion.
It's all out of proportion to the problem of illegal lending and other discrimination observable in our banking system and the fact that the system excludes tens of millions of households (See the FDIC's 2009 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households).
Perhaps it's been too long since we've discussed the public responsibility that entrepreneurs who are the backbone of our banking system agree to accept in exchange for their government license to operate, so that they and the public do not understand these matters in that context. If so it's time we had that conversation so that all involved are informed and so that those who choose not to honor that responsibility are relieved of their protected status.
Everyone in the United States uses financial services. We can do better than continuing public support to banks that combine to exclude twenty-five percent of our population (and rising!) while "cherry picking" our markets in avoidance of their legal, regulatory, and moral obligations.
Clifton D. Berry
Berry Advisors, LLC