Thursday, July 22, 2010

love thursday 07.22.10 ~ interview with elizabeth warren (reprinted from sojourners)

(hope springs eternal)

This may be a tad long for some but I think it is well worth the read.

I have been saying that one of the biggest problems we have is greed. Greed then causes corporations (and individuals) to choose unethical behaviors and the snowball grows out of control.

Elizabeth Warren articulates that point clearly in the context of the banking industry:

Leveling the Playing Field: An interview with Elizabeth Warren

by Jim Wallis and Jeannie Choi

Elizabeth Warren is more than just the head of Congress' panel reviewing the bank bailout (officially, the Troubled Asset Relief Program). Along with being a Harvard Law professor, she's also a plain-spoken and passionate advocate for everyday people who is deeply motivated by her Oklahoma Methodist upbringing, as she described in an interview with Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis and assistant editor Jeannie Choi in February 2010.

Wallis: Particularly for people of faith and conscience, what's at stake in the battle over financial regulation that we're in now?

Warren: Our future is at stake, and the future of our children. The story works this way: We had a boom-and-bust economy from 1794 until 1930. Our young nation would lurch from moments of great prosperity to moments of economic panic. Coming out of the 1930s, our leaders crafted a set of basic rules that put fairness into the marketplace: FDIC insurance that made it safe to put money in banks; Glass-Steagall, that said banks that take deposits cannot go out and speculate with your money; some honesty rules for Wall Street through the SEC. Those rules brought us 50 years of economic security and prosperity.

By the 1980s, some of those were outmoded - but instead of trying to think through what kind of rules we need to create a fair marketplace, we just began to throw the rules out. The credit marketplace became a lawless arena.

Credit cards had been access to modest amounts of credit on fair terms; that model was tossed out. Instead, Wall Street developed a model of tricking people - pretending that a credit card was 2.9 percent financing and then making all the money on the tricks and traps buried in the fine print. A credit card agreement in 1980 was one page; by the early 2000s, it was more than 30 pages and unreadable - that's the point.

The mortgage industry introduced teaser-rate mortgages, "liar's loans" - mortgages that they knew, when they issued them, that the family after two years would either have to find a way to refinance, with very high fees for the company, or would lose the home.

In this lawless environment, Wall Street companies figured out how to trick their way into billions of dollars annually from hard-working middle-class families. That drove up profits and bonuses in the industry - and risk for families and the entire economy.

Wallis: When we were afraid of the meltdown, we extended grace to the bankers, and then they extend no grace to homeowners. They're modifying so few loans; I read that a quarter of the money spent on bonuses at the big banks last year would be enough to prevent or postpone projected foreclosures through 2012.

Warren: What we do about this is a measure of ourselves. If this is how we define ourselves - that the powerful feast off the rest of us - then that's what we've become. We could have a lawless world in which the fast and the slick can take whatever they can get their hands on. Some of us will do all right with that. But millions of families will get caught - if it's not credit cards, it's mortgages, or overdraft on checking accounts, or payday loans.

What's at stake here is how we want to live in markets. If we get this right, we'll have it right for another 50 years - we'll have it right for our children and grandchildren. ...

Wallis: I remember the day we both were at the White House, and President Obama spoke about meeting with several ordinary Americans who had been victims of these predatory and abusive practices. It's the stories of ordinary people that ought to change us. You're a veteran Sunday school teacher; you've been using the language of David and Goliath.

Warren: It is a David and Goliath story. I remember one woman at that event - we spoke afterward. She spoke about how deeply humiliated she felt. She didn't just lose money and her house: She lost her sense of self-worth. She had the sense that she was stupid, that she was not up to the task of surviving in this world.

So I say: Look, this is about a set of rules. We used to have a good set of basic rules that governed credit. They were largely usury-based rules, biblical in origin, which had been part of America's laws since colonial times. They were very quietly tossed out in the 1980s. That's what provoked this race to the bottom. My push right now is - we can change this. We are the ones who determine what the rules are!

Wallis: There are issues of personal responsibility to look at, but you've also spoken against scapegoating consumers. How do you strike the balance?

Warren: So long as credit card agreements are unreadable, and car loans come with hidden kickbacks, and mortgages carry the seeds of their own foreclosures from the day they're issued, then we need a change in the rules, period. When those are changed, people have to look hard at their own values and spending habits. But our failure to do that is not an excuse for someone else to cheat us. For me, that's the heart of it. ...

Choi: How does your faith inform the work you are doing today?

Warren: I grew up in Oklahoma in what we used to refer to as a mixed marriage - my mother was Baptist and my father was Methodist! I grew up in a world of Christian service, and the whole notion that some people of faith embrace greed is so deeply troubling to me.
My Methodist roots - a tradition that worship is doing what is right - show in every bit of work I do. It is about helping others. That guides my life every day.

Listen to the Sojourners audio interview with Elizabeth Warren.


What does this have to do with Love Thursday? Absolutely everything.

(Can I get an "amen"?)

4 comments:

Carrie Link said...

Sure, you can get a BIG amen!

Mary'sCorner said...

AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, Sistah!

vchelle said...

Amen!!! It's just money... Beauty, love and joy are eternal. Someone ask recently why is there so much corruption and greed, I said, "Crazed minds."

Kathryn Grace said...

Belated, but no less heartfelt: AMEN!

We actually have some power to do something about this right now. First, write to President Obama (at Whitehouse.gov) today and ask him to put Elizabeth Warren in charge of the restructuring. (See Warren would protect consumers, not the banks.) Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is telling Obama to put in one of the banker suits instead. (Fox in henhouse, anyone?) Obama needs to hear from us that Elizabeth Warren is the one we need, and that she needs his full authority behind her to make real change that will actually help all of us.

Second, stop buying from the robber barons. These fat cats with their slick tongues, slick bonuses, and slick suits will hear only one thing from us: Not buying it. As in, we stop shopping at their banks, move our accounts to worker-owned, share-holder-owned credit unions and stop using the fat cats' credit cards, mortgages and other so-called services.

Many of us are just a paycheck away from homelessness and the streets. Prayer, talking about it--like you did here Wanda--action. That's what will get us the change we need. Otherwise, they'll keep fleecing us till we have nothing left.