What should we call those who have our back as opposed to those who would put a knife in it? What should we call those who fail to acknowledge that economic policies that rely on an “invisible hand” of the markets may be flawed in dealing with human realities?
A new regulatory agency that evolved out of the financial reform spearheaded by Democrats last year has a ring to it that most consumers ought to find appealing. It’s the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This consumer-friendly agency arose out of an apparent lack of concern by other existing regulatory agencies that were supposed to have our back and make sure that large powerful private institutions were not taking advantage of ill-informed consumers.
But another name that is creating problems for many conservative legislators is Elizabeth Warren, President Obama’s selection to head up this new agency. If ever the lowly consumer had a champion in this day and age it is Ms. Warren. She’s “a Harvard law professor who has been a tireless critic of the financial services industry — one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington” according to an msnbc.com piece by Jon Schoen
Why do we need someone like Elizabeth Warren on our side? Because there exist an organization out there that ultimately hurts consumers as it enables itself through its connections with conservative lawmakers in state and federal legislatures. The name of that organization is the American Legislative Exchange Council or more simply just ALEC.
Alec sounds like the friend down the street you grew up with. This council though is far from being neighborly. It’s been around since 1973 and one of it’s primary functions is to create legislative “models” that are friendly to corporate interests. How many consumers can identify themselves with wealthy corporate interests? Maybe 2%?
People for the American Way (PFAW), another consumer friendly name recently revealed that in 2009, 826 model ALEC bills were introduced in state legislatures and had 115 of them eventually enacted into law. Some of these bills were entered into the law of the land almost word for word as written by the special interests of these various corporate entities.
The CFPB, the agency designed to assist consumers from becoming prey to predatory lenders faces challenges from members of the corporate-friendly Party in Congress – the GOP. I hesitate to use the name GOP anymore since it no longer resembles the “grand old Party” it came to be called in 1855 by anti-slavery advocates and served as the Party that put Abraham Lincoln in office. But that’s a topic for another day.
The GOP, representing the wealthy corporate interest of ALEC, are opposed to the restraints they feel the CFPB would impose on those financial institutions; institutions that mismanaged mortgages and savings accounts for average Americans in the early years of this century, creating in 2008 the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression 80 years ago. Yes, that’s right. The GOP wants to make sure that Goldman-Sachs, Bank of America and Citibank are not impeded from doing much of what they did just two years ago that created home foreclosures and job losses for millions and millions of hard-working Americans while the banks themselves walked away unscathed and are seeing some of their highest profits ever.
Warren’s populist appeal to consumer groups finds its opposite in the GOP, Wall Street and some Treasury Department officials. Obama is to be commended for sticking with Warren in the face of this opposition as his choice and convince consumers that somewhere in Washington they have a friend. But this consumer’s friend has her enemies and it appears to be people who have been sticking it to consumers for quite sometime now.
Government interference, as wealthy corporate interests like to put it, is hurtful to so-called “free-markets”. Advocates claim that creating regulations where corporations can police themselves unduly adds to the cost of running a business and thus makes them more uncompetitive in global markets. This generalized view makes sense if you disregard every other variable that requires the need for government oversight with many of these free-market allies.
If we could be assured that all free-marketers were honest and would never do anything to monopolize an industry, then their call for de-regulation would have a lot of validity. But only a fool would believe that when people are capable of manipulating conditions that enhances their own positions they would choose to do only the honorable and right thing. It goes without saying that tons and tons of paper have been used to write on the human weakness of greed and “self-interests”.
People of wealth and power should seldom be trusted to do what’s in the best interest of everyone. Is it even possible to create conditions where “everyone’s” self-interest can be satisfactorily met? I think not and so do those people who are capable of exploiting economic and political systems to ensure that they at least get theirs while throwing the rest of us a bone; a bone that we should accept without complaining.
The reality that seems to be overlooked by those who support “free-markets” is that it can be and has been gamed to benefit only a select few. When people like Elizabeth Warren and groups like PFAW try to point this out and work to correct this flaw, they are linked to names that call into question their value to all consumers and impugns they are somehow less worthy of respect. Names like Socialist, Communists, Fascists and Stalinist are used to lessen the worth of people who simply ask those who have the greatest power and wealth to play by the moral standards we claim as a society.
To some it may seem that we have no chance to ever create a fair and balanced system so we might as well let the forces of self-interest have their way? There may be no simple and absolute answer for that. We may have evolved into an over-populated, all-consuming species that does mainly what it needs to survive without sufficient regard for the consequences of our actions.
To some, this justifies the view that only the fittest should survive. But when it comes to choosing who should survive and who should be considered as refuge, what name will you use justify that action? Should we allow the “free hand of the market” to decide who should and shouldn’t perish while drowning out that voice inside us that asserts our true worth is in how we reach out to others?
“Free-market” is a name that has been placed on a pedestal and portrayed by a zealous lot as a determinant factor in what best guides us. Like any religious dogma it has flaws and warts that fails to fully live up to what those who praise it expect of it. But to raise this specter amongst true believers is a heresy that any true fundamentalist must deny. To acknowledge that for so long a view could be wrong is to label oneself with a name no one wants pinned to them. Hypocrite.
If you believe that we as consumers need someone to cover our back and prevent the abuses of financial markets whose support of a free markets ignores a code of ethics then call your U.S. Senator or House representative and let them know. We went without effective government oversight in years past by people who were too closely aligned with the Wall Street interests and many of us have paid dearly with our jobs and the loss of our homes.
Believe as Edward Everett Hale did that we can make an impact: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.”