Destin Jenkins on Municipal Debt and Bondholder Power

A recent Wall Street Journal article, citing Federal Reserve data, noted that municipal bond funds now hold an unprecedented 24% of outstanding debt compared with 16% five years ago. Buoyed by pandemic stimulus funds, state and local governments issued $302.3 billion of debt in 2021, the most in over a decade. More than the amount of municipal debt, the contemporary situation reflects the substantial power of investors and bonds’ brokers, whose decisions and actions have been shown to have far-reaching consequences for cities and the people who live in them.

How did we get here? It’s a question at the center of Destin Jenkins’ new book on the history of municipal finance and bondholder power. Focusing on San Francisco, Jenkins, traces the evolving relationship between cities, bondholders, banks, and municipal debt from the Great Depression to the 1980s. In doing so, Jenkins offers a new framework for understanding inequality within and between cities and their financiers, one with important implications for the Bay Area and the larger indebted world.

Check out the episode here!

Destin Jenkins is an Assistant Professor of History at Stanford University. He is the author of The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City (University of Chicago Press, 2021) and co-editor of Histories of Racial Capitalism (Columbia University Press, 2021).

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