Thursday, March 16, 2023

SVB Israel Sizzle: OY VEY!!!

Tablet  | So what sort of investments did SVB make that went bad? One type of startup appears to have occupied a large amount of space on the bank’s balance sheet: eco-tech innovators, which traditionally require large upfront investments to get off the ground. According to the bank’s website, more than $3.2 billion of its funds were invested to finance companies in “clean tech, climate tech, and sustainability industry, including solar, wind, battery storage, fuel cell, utility storage and more.” The bank’s investment in such virtuous technologies is so massive that 60% of community solar financing nationwide involves SVB. Just last week, the bank hosted Winterfest, a shindig for the climate-tech sector, at the Lake Tahoe Ritz-Carlton.

In other words, the darling financial institution of the tech industry, which donates heavily and almost exclusively to the Democratic Party, is now bankrupt in part because it spent heavily on the Democratic Party’s pet causes. SVB’s demise was followed at the end of last week by the collapse of New York’s Signature Bank, which had former Democratic regulatory guru Barney Frank on its board, and which famously stepped into the political fray in January 2021 when it cut its long-standing ties with Donald Trump and urged the president to resign.

This may help explain why Democrat-supporting big-time investors are now pressing President Joe Biden to bail out SVB. But as the president announced, he doesn’t need to do almost anything to help the banks that fund his supporters and his party’s ideological agenda: For that, there are bank fees. According to a 2020 survey, bank fees are hitting record highs, with monthly service fees now at $15.50 on average for accounts that don’t meet an ever-increasing minimum monthly balance, now at an all-time high of $7,550.

Let’s put it simply: If you have a million dollars in the bank, you suffer no consequences. If you have $10 in the bank, you have to pay the bank $15 for the privilege of keeping it there, which means you owe the bank $5. Bank fees are among our most shockingly regressive forms of taxation. When the Biden administration promises that there’ll be no bailouts and that no one will lose any money from SVB’s collapse, what they mean is that the bailouts will be paid for by the poor, not by the banks.

What to make of all this? Two immediate lessons come to mind.

First, the collapse of FTX (which gave tens of millions to Democratic Party candidates and causes), SVB, Signature Bank, and the financial institutions that will surely follow isn’t part of some complex financial machination inscrutable to all but the savviest among us. It’s part of the very same rot that has already claimed our universities, our media, and other institutions crucial to the functioning of a civil society.

SVB was the financier of choice of one political party’s donor base. It overwhelmingly paid for projects that fit that party’s agenda. And it employed people who expended a lot of time and energy preaching its gospel: The bank’s head of financial risk management in the U.K., for example, Jay Ersapah, took to the internet enthusiastically to both identify herself as “a queer person of color” and announce that she had helped launch no less than six employee resource groups at SVB, designed to “raise the visibility of multiple dimensions of diversity.” As the saying goes, you get what you paid for.

These ideological convictions aren’t coincidences. They’re requirements. Just as you have to pledge your allegiance to the most woke of persuasions to get tenure, and just as you may no longer be a part of a major American newsroom unless you see yourself as fully committed to seeing virtually any Republican as an enemy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you may no longer be a part of the financial system unless you’re ready to support leftist candidates and causes.

The consequences of party control spreading from universities and media to professional organizations and financial institutions are now plain. It’s one thing when the ideological rot on campus leads to a gaggle of law students honking at a circuit judge; it’s another when the same convictions lead investors and regulators to slow-clap as billions vanish from their accounts, knowing that doing so is now a requirement of their jobs, and the costs will be passed on to taxpayers.

The second lesson that may be learned from SVB’s collapse applies only to Israelis, but it’s no less urgent: Sure, the Jewish state’s local customs and arrangements are flawed in many ways, but importing American-style politics and culture, at this particular moment in time, is a very bad idea. America is no longer a liberal bulwark against the storm. It is the storm. Emulating America means more contempt for voters, more erosion of norms in the name of abstract virtue, more mistrust, and, eventually, bankruptcy.

The solutions are simple: Keep politics in the parking lot. Keep banks focused on banking. Bring back trustworthy, nonpartisan regulation—the loss of which, in all fairness, was brought about as much, if not more, by Republicans as it was by Democrats. Resist the whole-of-society blob model you get when a political party merges with the tech industry and federal bureaucracies and leading newspapers and professional organizations and financial institutions and everyone become too big to fail. And realize that what’s true for the richest and most powerful country in history is even more true for Israel, a country where failure would be truly catastrophic—and is always just around the corner.

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