In her 2015 book, How the Other Half Banks, Mehrsa Baradaran argued that the banking system we have today was originally established to serve the public interest and facilitate the participation of Americans in a vibrant national economy. But the social contract between the government and financial sector that supported this arrangement has eroded, leaving a thriving financial sector at the public’s expense. What remains is a two-tiered system where access to safe, affordable financial products and services are a privilege and many Americans struggle to maintain a few hundred dollars in savings or a basic banking account and often rely on an array of risky and expensive products outside the formal banking sector.
As demonstrated in a new paper from New America, U.S. welfare policy replicates this two-tier system. It prioritizes autonomy, flexibility, and functionality in the products distributing benefits to participants in programs like Social Security and unemployment insurance, while relegating poor families in programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families to products that restrict how and where benefits are accessed—and at a higher cost to them. Financial exclusion isn’t an expression of free will, but a default set up by consequences of public policy.
Meanwhile, promoting financial inclusion has become a front-burner issue, and both major political parties have staked political capital on differing versions of how to do so. Populist movements like #BankBlack raise the possibility that consumers can themselves organize and shift dynamics within the financial services industry, and the government has carved out new territory in promoting inclusion, including directly offering products such as myRA to Americans.
Please join us, featured speaker Mehrsa Baradaran, and a panel of experts as we discuss moving past the two-tiered financial system and the next steps toward achieving an inclusive financial system that works for all.
Author, How the Other Half Banks
Professor of Law, University of Georgia
Fellow, Asset Building Program, Family-Centered Social Policy Initiative, New America
Senior Associate Editor, Business, The Atlantic
Co-Director, Family-Centered Social Policy Initiative, New America