Tag Archives: Elizabeth Warren

Tim Geithner’s Ninth Political Life

By Simon Johnson

In modern American life, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stands out as amazingly resilient and remarkably lucky – despite presiding over or being deeply involved in a series of political debacles, he has gone from strength to strength.  After at least eight improbably bounce backs, he might seem unassailable.  But his latest mistake – blocking Elizabeth Warren from heading the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – may well prove politically fatal.

Geithner was a junior but key member of the US Treasury team that badly mishandled the early days of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and received widespread criticism (Life #1).  He was promoted as a result and thereafter enjoyed a meteoric rise.

As President of the New York Federal Reserve from 2003, and de facto head of the government’s financial intelligence service, he completely failed to spot the problems developing in and around the country’s financial markets; nothing about this embarrassing track record has since stood in his way (Life #2).  He subsequently became Hank Paulson’s Wall Street point person for one of the most comprehensively bungled bailouts of all time – the Troubled Asset Relief Program, TARP, which in fall 2008 first appalled Congress with its intentions and then wasn’t used at all as advertised (Life #3). Continue reading

The Ongoing Battle Against Error and Hypocrisy

By James Kwak

With the financial reform bill out of the Senate Banking Committee last week (another good thing that happened while I was away) and fresh off of victory in the health care war, the Obama administration is upping the rhetorical pressure to pass financial reform. This was most obvious in Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin’s speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week, in which he called out his hosts with fighting words: “the Chamber of Commerce – funded, no doubt, with a good deal of your money – has launched a lavish, aggressive and misleading campaign to defeat the proposed independent agency.”

Elizabeth Warren, who has never minced words when it comes to enemies of consumer protection, steps up today with an even more withering attack on the flip-flopping of the American Bankers Association, which was for the separation of consumer protection from prudential regulation before it was against it. As Warren says:

“ABA lobbyists now aggressively insist that separating consumer protection and safety and soundness functions would unravel bank stability. Yet just a few years ago, they heatedly argued the opposite—that the functions should be distinct.

“In 2006, the ABA claimed to act on principle as it railed against an interagency guidance designed to exercise some modest control over subprime mortgages.  It criticized the proposal for ‘combin[ing] safety and soundness guidance with consumer protection guidance, creating confusion that is best addressed by separating them.'”

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Elizabeth Warren Calls Out Wall Street

Although the Consumer Financial Protection Agency made it through the House more or less intact, the banking lobby is taking another, better shot at killing it in the Senate, and is planning to use the magic words: “big government” and “bureaucracy.” Elizabeth Warren wrote an op-ed for Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal that lays out the confrontation. For most of the past two decades, many Americans trusted the banking industry–not necessarily to be moral exemplars, but they trusted that the banks were basically doing what was right for customers and for the economy. Then in 2007-2008 that mood abruptly reversed, as it became apparent that unscrupulous mortgage lenders, the Wall Street banks that backed them, and the credit rating agencies had been ripping off mortgage borrowers on the one hand and investors on the other.

The big banks face a choice. They can agree to sensible reforms that protect consumers and rein in the excesses of the past decades. Or they can simply decide to screw customers, but do it openly this time, since they have so much market share it almost doesn’t matter what customers think. How else do you explain, say, Citigroup’s concocting a new credit card “feature” explicitly to get around a new requirement of the Credit CARD Act? Or Jamie Dimon saying that financial crises are something to be expected every five to seven years, so we should just get over it?

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The Remarkable Ms. Warren

She’s probably already said this before, but I just saw this in an interview by Tim Fernholz, which I completely agree with:

“There are a lot of ways to regulate ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions: break them up, regulate them more closely, tax them more aggressively, insure them, and so on. And I’m totally in favor of increased regulatory scrutiny of these banks. But those are all regulatory tools. Regulations, over time, fail. I want to see Congress focus more on a credible system for liquidating the banks that are considered too big to fail.”

But what really caught my eye was this: “I’m teaching my classes, doing my research, and helping out where I can.” I always assumed she took a leave from Harvard Law School when she became chair of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel. Now that is remarkable.

By James Kwak

Three Myths about the Consumer Financial Product Agency

This guest post was contributed by Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel and the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard University. (Update: more on the case for a CFPA in her YouTube video, released yesterday.)

I’ve written a lot about the creation of a new Consumer Protection Financial Agency (CFPA), starting with an article I wrote in the Democracy Journal in the summer of 2007. My writing has helped me work through the idea and has advanced a conversation about what kind of changes in financial products would be most effective. A couple of weeks ago, I testified before the House Financial Services Committee about why I think a new consumer agency is so important, and I’ve argued the case many times.

Today, though, I’d like to post specifically about some of the push back that has developed on this issue.  In particular, I’d like to focus on three big myths – myths designed to protect the same status quo that triggered the economic crisis. Continue reading