Elizabeth Warren and the Curse of the Competent
I'm sure that you've all experienced the phenomenon I call "the curse of the competent." It's monumentally frustrating, but quite common.
You are hired to do a job. You do it well. Unfortunately, as an unintended consequence of your competence, you make all the other idiots who aren't doing their jobs, or are doing them badly, look like, um, idiots. So then what happens?
You get the short end of the stick, of course. You get laid off, or you have to watch other people getting promoted before you, or you get demoted, or you never quite make it from temp to full-time. Meanwhile, the incompetent get the promotions, the kudos and the benefits of being a favored member of the group you have so cavalierly exposed. If you are a person who is already on the lower rungs of society - like, a woman, a person of color, an "out" LGBT, an older person, or some combination of these - it's even easier to make sure that you never get the recognition you deserve.
This is where Elizabeth Warren comes in.
For many years, Ms. Warren has labored under the mistaken impression that a consumer advocate should actually advocate for consumers. As Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the banking bailouts, Warren has been the bankers' worst nightmare, and has become a popular favorite because of it. In December of 2009, she wrote that the middle class was disappearing through no fault of its own:
Families have survived the ups and downs of economic booms and busts for a long time, but the fall-behind during the busts has gotten worse while the surge-ahead during the booms has stalled out. In the boom of the 1960s, for example, median family income jumped by 33% (adjusted for inflation). But the boom of the 2000s resulted in an almost-imperceptible 1.6% increase for the typical family. While Wall Street executives and others who owned lots of stock celebrated how good the recovery was for them, middle class families were left empty-handed.
The crisis facing the middle class started more than a generation ago. Even as productivity rose, the wages of the average fully-employed male have been flat since the 1970s.
(charts go here)
But core expenses kept going up. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much (adjusted for inflation) on mortgages than they did a generation ago -- for a house that was, on average, only ten percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much to hang on to their health insurance.
To cope, millions of families put a second parent into the workforce. But higher housing and medical costs combined with new expenses for child care, the costs of a second car to get to work and higher taxes combined to squeeze families even harder. Even with two incomes, they tightened their belts. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases -- but it hasn't been enough to save them. Today's families have spent all their income, have spent all their savings, and have gone into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, and just to stay afloat a little while longer.
Yup, that about covers it. The charts shown in the story linked above clearly show that the best time for the middle class was in the 60s, followed by the 90s, then the 80s. The 2000s have been, by far, the worst in a very long time. And people know it, and they know it's not fair, and that Wall Street is the one that's making money from their misery.
Pundits talk about "populist rage" as a way to trivialize the anger and fear coursing through the middle class. But they have it wrong. Families understand with crystalline clarity that the rules they have played by are not the same rules that govern Wall Street. They understand that no American family is "too big to fail." They recognize that business models have shifted and that big banks are pulling out all the stops to squeeze families and boost revenues. They understand that their economic security is under assault and that leaving consumer debt effectively unregulated does not work.
Imagine, a person who is unafraid to speak these truths in public; a member of the Obama Administration who actually does not blame the people for their own poverty and misery, but blames the bankers instead; a woman who understands that the role of the henhouse guard is to keep the chickens from being eaten, not to let the fox in. And, her biography is most impressive. What boss could not love this woman?
And look, there's a job opening that would seem to be tailor-made for her! The Finance Whatever Bill has created a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and Elizabeth Warren is the perfect choice to run that Bureau. Indeed, no less a mainstream financial pundit than Paul Krugman has called for this very outcome. (Partially because it will make his dear Obama look better, but who cares.)
Nonetheless, Obama appears to have very little intention of giving the CFPB any teeth whatsoever. This is the guy who has given the bankers trillions of our dollars, after all, and thinks we will be gullible enough to believe the Republicans made him do it. Here is the latest from him and his team:
"Elizabeth Warren is a great, great champion for consumers and middle-class families across the country," White House senior adviser David Axelrod told reporters on a Friday conference call. "She has helped inform this effort greatly and what has been done here in many ways reflects something she's been advocating for years and years and years, so she's obviously a candidate to lead this effort."
"There are other candidates as well," Axelrod cautioned, "but Elizabeth is certainly a candidate to lead it and one thing I know for certain is however we move forward she's going to be a strong voice in helping shape this and make it the most effective voice for consumers that it possibly can be."
A consumer advocate intimately involved in the legislative efforts said Axelrod's comments could serve to lower expectations among Democrats that Warren would be the obvious choice, given that she conceived the agency in a 2007 journal article and has arguably served as the public face of the effort to get it enacted. The advocate added that Axelrod also opened the door to keeping Warren involved in consumer protection efforts even though she ultimately may not be picked.
Yeah! I mean, just because she thought of the agency herself, and has been pushing for it for three years, doesn't mean she should LEAD it. Isn't there some Chicago crony of RahmBo's or Obama's who could handle it better? Forgawdssake, Warren doesn't even have a PENIS. How embarrassing it would be to have a woman in that position, who couldn't be bribed with meth, coke and sex like the employees of the MMS?!
Axelrove's hemming and hawing about Warren, added to the recent, explosive story (not denied by the Administration) that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is opposed to her nomination, has people worried. Lots of people.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank supports her nomination, as does virtually every consumer group and liberal organization across the country. On Friday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) circulated a letter to colleagues, in order to get signatures of support, urging Obama to nominate Warren. The letter says Warren is the "best person" to lead the new bureau, adding that she's "simply the perfect choice." [MB: Way to go, Carolyn Maloney. That's more like it.]
I think it would be great if just once, Obama actually did the right thing and appointed a competent person to do the people's work, don't you? With your help, there might actually be a light in the darkness for the next couple of years. And competency, for Elizabeth Warren, might end up being a blessing, not a curse.