Tag Archives: Elizabeth Warren

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

Disinformation About The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

By Simon Johnson

In Washington, before lobbyists try hard to destroy something, they first spread a great deal of disinformation about it.  Thus the “End Users’ Coalition” (a front for the derivatives dealers) promotes its lobbying points as fake research.  And “fiscal conservatives” attempt to distract from the fact that our largest banks brought us to the brink of budget disaster – this is their preparation for demolishing all vestiges of financial reform.

On a closely related front, there is now a concerted effort to undermine the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), mostly by spreading disinformation about its supposed lack of accountability.

This disinformation approach contains the standard elements of exaggeration, misdirection, and distraction (all quotes are via Fred Barnes):

  1. Slogans: “If you like TSA at the airport, you’ll love these guys” (Congressman Spencer Bachus).
  2. This is a major step towards dictatorship.  “Its powers are very, very vast….  Who in the world would consider it appropriate to have one person appointed—one person!—to set the rules for the entire financial industry. It’s a tremendous overreach. It’s incredible to think about” (Senator Bob Corker)
  3. And it would be a one-person dictatorship.  “”It would be dangerous to the American economy if Elizabeth Warren were put in that job by a recess appointment, thwarting the will of Congress….  [She would be] accountable to no one” (Senator Richard Shelby)

Naturally, none of this is remotely close to the facts – an important principle of disinformation is that it should create an alternative reality which, through repetition by apparently disparate and supposedly credible people, becomes regarded as containing an element of truth. Continue reading

Symbols and Substance

By James Kwak

Arnold Kling wins the prize for the most erudite post of the past week, a review of The Symbolic Uses of Politics, by Murray Edelman. Kling cites not only Sigmund Freud and J.D. Salinger, but Theodor Adorno and Seymour Lipset (with specific books, not just names), among others.

In Kling’s summary, Edelman divided the political sphere into insiders and outsiders (Kling’s terms). Insiders are basically special interests: small in number but well organized and with specific goals. Outsiders, or the “unorganized masses,” are the rest of us: we have some interests, but we are poorly organized to pursue them and therefore are generally unsuccessful. In particular, Outsiders suffer from poor and limited information, and therefore are especially susceptible to political symbols. In Kling’s words:

“Given these differences, the Insiders use overt political dramas as symbols that placate the masses while using covert political activity to plunder them. What we would now call rent-seeking succeeds because Outsiders are dazzled by the symbols while Insiders grab the substance.”

Continue reading

The Economics and Politics of Elizabeth Warren

By Simon Johnson

Congressional Republicans are apparently intent on a big showdown with Elizabeth Warren, who is currently building up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

This is very good news for the White House, if they use this opportunity wisely.

Some Republicans seem to think that Ms. Warren is about “big government” or “intrusive regulation”.  But this is not the case – Elizabeth Warren’s approach is much more appealing and already popular with almost everyone on right and left: Transparency. Continue reading

The White House Needs Elizabeth Warren, Now More Than Ever

By Simon Johnson

The White House today is under pressure, with insiders asking: After the strong showing of the Republicans in the midterm elections, should the president move to the right or to the left?

This is entirely the wrong way to think about the problem – the administration needs to get beyond its mental framework of early 2009, which led it sadly astray with regard to the financial sector.  The President needs to find people and themes capable of cutting across the political spectrum; specifically he needs to promote strongly the ideas of Elizabeth Warren – what we need in financial services, above all else, is much more transparency.

The premise – and central mistake – of the Obama administration in 2009-10 can be summed up in what the president said to leading bankers on that fateful day, March 27, 2009: “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks”. Continue reading

Elizabeth Warren: The Right Appointment At The Right Time

By Simon Johnson

The case for appointing Elizabeth Warren to set up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was, at the end of the day, overwhelming.  She had the original idea, she helped build political support, and her own credentials have been only strengthened by her work as head of the Congressional Oversight Panel for TARP.  On Friday, the president will reportedly appoint Professor Warren as an assistant to the president and special adviser to the Treasury Secretary, with the task of setting up and initially running the CFPB.

Some of Ms. Warren’s supporters think this move is something of a half-measure – they would have preferred a conventional nomination, with all the fanfare of a classic confirmation battle in the Senate.  There is something to be said for that, but the interim appointment route is by far the best way forward for three reasons. Continue reading

Republican Nightmare: Putting Elizabeth Warren to Work Now

By Simon Johnson

President Obama is finally looking for bold, creative, and clever ways to change the way the US economy operates – preferably with measures that will take effect by the November midterms and change the tone of the broader political debate.  His tax proposals this week have some symbolic value, but in the broader sense all of these fiscal suggestions are tinkering at the margins.

What could he possibly do that would grab people’s attention, mobilize his political base, and put his opponents on the defensive?  There is an easy answer: Appoint Elizabeth Warren to start running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) immediately.

And the brilliant part of this idea – as explained by Shahien Nasiripour at the Huffington Post (see also David Dayen’s Thursday coverage)– is that the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation allows the person charged with setting up this new agency to be an outright appointment, rather than a nomination subject to Senate confirmation. Continue reading