Tag Archives: Elizabeth Warren

The Importance Of Elizabeth Warren

By Simon Johnson

One of the most important results on Tuesday was the election of Elizabeth Warren as United States senator for Massachusetts. Her victory matters not only because it helps the Democrats keep control of the Senate but because Ms. Warren has a proven track record of speaking truth to authority on financial issues – both to officials in Washington and to powerful people on Wall Street.

During the campaign, Ms. Warren’s opponent and his allies made repeated attempts to portray her as antibusiness. In the most bizarre episode, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS ran an ad that contended that she favored bailing out large Wall Street banks. All of this was misdirection and disinformation.

Ms. Warren has long stood for transparency and accountability. She has insisted that consumers need protection relative to financial products – when the customer cannot understand what is really on offer, this encourages bad behavior by some companies. If this behavior spreads sufficiently, the entire market can become contaminated – damaging the entire macroeconomy, exactly as we have seen in the last decade. Continue reading

Responsible Populism

By Simon Johnson

“Populism” is a loaded term in modern American politics. On the one hand, it conveys the idea that someone represents (or claims to represent) the broad mass of society against a privileged elite. This is a theme that plays well on the right as well as the left – although they sometimes have different ideas about who is in that troublesome “elite.”

At the same time, populism is often used in a pejorative way – as a putdown, implying “the people” want irresponsible things that would undermine the fabric of society or the smooth functioning of the economy.

In Latin America, for example, there is a long tradition of populists falling into bed with a corrupt political elite, and the results invariably include irresponsible macroeconomic policies and various kinds of financial disaster (see “The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America,” edited by Rudiger Dornbush and Sebastian Edwards).

In North America, however, the populist tradition has proved much more constructive. More than 100 years ago, hot-button issues included direct election of senators and a federal income tax. None of these demands seem irresponsible today, and achieving those goals through constitutional amendments in the run-up to 1914 in no way jeopardized American prosperity. Continue reading

Karl Rove’s Latest Attack On Elizabeth Warren

By Simon Johnson

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS has another ad out attacking Elizabeth Warren (video here).   This is beyond ludicrous – the ad attempts to blame Ms. Warren for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and for bank bailouts.  The principle here seems to be that when the truth cannot be slanted in a way you want, just ignore the facts and go all out for disinformation.

I count at least five misrepresentations in the ad, and I suggest the following corrections: Continue reading

Wall Street v. Elizabeth Warren

By Simon Johnson

Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS group has launched the first attack ad against Elizabeth Warren, presumably because she is now running hard for the Senate in Massachusetts.  This ad is not a big surprise, but the line that Mr. Rove takes could well backfire.

The ad states, “we need jobs, not radical theories and protests,” so we can break the argument down into three separate parts.

First, who destroyed more than 8 million jobs in the United States – and plunged us into the deepest and longest lasting recession since the 1930s?  Surely this was not Ms. Warren, who was just a law school professor, in the run-up to 2008.

Mr. Rove is opening the blame game and this is going to go badly for his presumed supporters – the largest banks on Wall Street that took excessive risks, paid their top people well, and then blew themselves up at great cost to the American taxpayer.  By all means, let us have a conversation about jobs and the history of job losses in the United States; “too big to fail” banks do not look good in this context. Continue reading

Nominate Elizabeth Warren – Provide The Pecora Hearings We Need

By Simon Johnson

Ms. Warren is helping get the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) off the ground and remains the leading contender to become its formal head (subject to Senate confirmation).  She summarizes her substantive agenda this way,

We’re trying to make these markets transparent, which makes it easier for community banks to compete both with large financial institutions and with their nonbank competitors.”

She should now be nominated to the CFPB position.  There will be strong Republican opposition and some Democrats who are close to the financial sector may be lukewarm.  But a public hearing on her case represents our best opportunity to experience a modern version of the Pecora Hearings – the Senate Banking Committee hearings in the 1930s that laid bare the inner (and rotten) workings of the biggest financial firms (see Michael Perino’s book on Pecora for details).

These hearings would represent a major step forward towards forging a new consensus regarding how to really establish markets (as opposed to the crazy government subsidy schemes that predominate).  In addition, the administration would win a big victory with Ms. Warren’s confirmation. Continue reading

What Is Spencer Bachus’s Game?

By Simon Johnson

Representative Spencer Bachus, Republican chair of the House Financial Services Committee, famously remarked in December,

“in Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

With regard to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), this apparently now implies that Mr. Bachus will use any means possible to change the topic away from substance – how banks treat their customers – to imagined procedural issues.

Specifically, Mr. Bachus is wrongly accusing Elizabeth Warren of misleading Congress with regard to the role of the CFPB in the negotiations over how to settle allegations that mortgage foreclosure practices have been abusive (see also this news coverage). Continue reading

Who’s Afraid Of Elizabeth Warren?

By Simon Johnson

The next big political battle in Washington – after the budget debate is declared “over” – will likely feature the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in particular the fight to determine whether Elizabeth Warren can become as the agency’s first official head.

But will this fight feature a classic left vs. right set-piece confirmation showdown in the Senate?  Or it will it be resolved with cloaks and daggers closer to the White House – with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner managing to prevent Professor Warren’s nomination?

There is much to commend the left vs. right scenario.  The Republicans, after all, want to argue that regulation is excessive in general and regulation of financial products is somewhere between unnecessary and dangerous for economic growth in particular.  This theme came up during the Dodd-Frank legislative debate on financial reform last year but it was largely lost in the larger conversation.

Now Spencer Bachus, Republican chair of the House Financial Services Committee, has Elizabeth Warren firmly in his sights – with the mortgage settlement negotiations as the flashpoint. Continue reading