I am in Washington DC for the national conference of the National Consumer Law Center. Our special guest today was Senator Elizabeth Warren. In a blistering plain-language talk, delivered to an audience of approximately 900 consumer lawyers, Warren took aim at lobbyists, courts and the campaign finance system. She stated, “We are fighting an organized group that aims to make money off the backs of working people.”
According to Warren, one of the best weapons of these enemies of the people is “opacity.” They love fine print because it allows them to hide their “tricks and traps in the bushes.” Opacity also takes the form of attempts to make “complex disclosures, but these are not disclosures at all.” Further, these complex disclosures aren’t merely hurting working people; rather, they making honest businesses suffer.
The “table is tilted,” warned Warren, yet the government could step in to give consumers a fair shake. Thanks to thoughtful regulations, government agencies are keeping us safe in many ways. When we buy aspirin, we have confidence that it is really aspirin. The government makes sure that our cars have seatbelts and the government makes sure that the slats on our baby cribs are properly spaced “so that our babies won’t be strangled.“ When we buy a toaster, “there is no need to study the wiring diagram to make sure it won’t explode.” When government exercises its power to regulate, this “opens space in the marketplace for real competition.” “Many people are alive today,” said Warren, thanks to proper government regulation.
The danger is that there are many “armies of lobbyists” out there working to keep the people in the dark in numerous ways. For instance, gun violence “is an epidemic that kills neighbors, family and friends, but there is virtually no data about gun violence available to the government thanks to the efforts of the NRA. Out of its $5.2 Billion budget, the CDC spends only $100,000 on gun violence.
Massive amounts of money are being spent in secret to influence our elections, and this is also due to the efforts of “armies of lobbyists determined to keep the people in the dark.”
The newly formed CFPB has faced constant attack for opposing fine print. It required a huge fight to establish the CFPB. Warren pointed out that the CPFB has made significant progress to prevent “exploding mortgages and exploding credit cards.” The CPFB is “starting to make a real difference,” and it’s doing this good work because “We got out there and fought for it.”
Warren stressed that the key part of what we fight for “depends on having information.” For example, we need to have information about the epidemic of gun violence, financial products and many other things, “so people can decide.”
We need to continue these fights for information, “so peple don’t get tricked or fooled.” Warren concluded her talk optimistically, “When we fight side by side, we win.”