Poor Wall Street — several of the biggest banks have discovered that they have a new problem. It's not yet another batch of toxic assets or another proposal to rein-in bankster greed. Believe it or not, their problem is art.
Yes, Wall Street hucksters are masters of the art of financial deception, but this problem has to do with actual art, including old masters, abstracts, pop art — you name it, banks have it. Lots of it. And they don't know what to do with it.
Banks that you and I bailed out with billions of our tax dollars turn out to be holding some of the largest, private art collections in the country. In the heady days of anything-goes financing and bank mergers, many of the giants accumulated the works of known artists to cover their many walls, impress clients and buff-up their corporate images. Deutsche Bank, for example, owns 60,000 pieces, UBS has 40,000, and JPMorgan Chase is home to 30,000.
These cultural treasures adorn bank atriums, lobbies, boardrooms and hallways — but much of the art is simply boxed up and stashed in basements. Many of the banks have no idea what they have in storage — including banks that care nothing about art, but acquired their collections when they took over another bank.
These works have real value, not only in terms of dollars, but also in terms of ... well, art. Art that the public could appreciate, enjoy and even be touched by if it were displayed somewhere besides bank hallways and basements.
Why are these outfits allowed to hoard these works? The entire Wall Street empire would have collapsed had it not been for trillions of dollars in public money that was used to shore them up. As a small gesture of gratitude for the public's generosity, the valuable pieces should come out into the open for everyone to see. We could call it the Taxpayers' Art Museum, and tour it all around the country. At least we could see some of what we paid for.
Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow, on sale now from Wiley Publishing. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.
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