Saturday, January 19, 2013

Here's what I'm reading today:

IV. The Vision of Local Stock Exchanges

Throughout most of this country’s history, securities were issued by local companies based in specific states, were traded on stock exchanges within each state, and were regulated by each state. Some state exchanges were efficient, honest, and successful, while others were sloppy, corrupt, and uneconomic. After the Great Depression hit, Congress stepped in to place the entire industry under national supervision. Mindful of the principles of federalism, it established a two-tiered regulatory regime—a national system, overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for the creation and trading of stocks across the country, and state systems, overseen primarily by state regulators, for the creation and trading of local stock within a given state.

For a number of understandable reasons the state systems largely fell into desuetude. The priority of most companies selling stock was to get as much capital as possible from as many investors as possible, irrespective of where they lived. Creating stocks tradable on national secondary markets offered greater demand for the stock, greater liquidity (that is, the ability to have ready cash to buy and sell the stock), and greater opportunities for profit from the secondary trading of the securities. But the possibilityof local stocks and local exchanges has been, and remains, firmly embedded in U.S. law. It’s a sleeping giant.

Every now and then a story comes along that reminds us of the existence of the state systems. For example, when Ben & Jerry’s first issued public stock, it was basically a statewide offering. You had to be a Vermont resident to buy or sell the securities. Subsequent stock issues by Ben & Jerry’s, however, were conventional national offerings. Gradually the company lost its tether to Vermont and ultimately was purchased by Unilever in a hostile takeover.

The prevailing view is that it’s difficult and expensive to do any of the five essential pieces of successful state stock exchanges—to create local stock, to sell it initially, to evaluate it, to trade it, and to assemble it into diversified portfolios. It’s worth mentioning that historically these same tasks confronted investors interested in larger companies. But throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries new financial intermediaries emerged, making it possible to restructure companies so that they had tradable stock shares, to evaluate the worth of shares, and to exchange shares on various public stock markets. My point here is that we already know how to do these tasks pretty well. Now we need to apply our know-how to the local companies.
~Michael H. Shuman, from Local Stock Exchanges: The Next Wave of Community Economy Building
I like this idea, although I would prefer local bond exchanges, rather than stock exchanges, since I think stocks are ultimately a rent extracting device. A system like this could be used to create a funding mechanism for worker-owned co-ops, which is one of my pet causes, and it could also conceivably be combined with an alternative, local currency to create a truly local economic system! Exciting...

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