The New Banking Crisis

On Wednesday, March 8, California-based Silvergate Bank announced it was voluntarily winding up operations. The same day, Silicon Valley Bank, the favorite bank of the area’s companies and venture capitalists, announced it was selling off its portfolio of government bonds to raise cash. This triggered a run on the bank, forcing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to shut it down on March 10. On Sunday, March 14, the FDIC announced it was shutting down New York-based Signature Bank. Both Silvergate and Signature were commercial banks heavily involved in lending to cryptocurrency companies. Problems leading to their collapse can be traced back to the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX cryptocurrency exchange last year.

Under U.S. law, bank deposits are insured up to $250,000. The idea is to insure small and medium-sized deposits. They wasted little time announcing that all deposits would be fully redeemed. The sound (or not-so-sound) commercial banks will be asked to cough up the money to make up for the massive losses FDIC will incur by paying off large capitalist deposit owners who weren’t supposed to be insured.

The FDIC hopes to stave off a general collapse of the currency system, which is based on using bank deposits as currency instead of traditional dollar bills and coins. If the bank deposits as currency were to collapse, it would lead to an economic crisis worse than the bank runs of 1931-33. Those marked the transformation of the recession that began in 1929 into the Great Depression. In bygone years, in capitalist countries, spending money mainly meant using coins and some paper banknotes redeemable in gold (or silver) at the government treasury or the central bank. At this earlier stage of capitalist development, extreme monetary crises in the form of bank runs did not threaten the purchasing power of the basic currency.

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