Elizabeth Warren on Corporations



In 1980s, cops were taken off the beat in financial services

Q: In your earlier book, "The Two Income Trap," you praised first lady Hillary Clinton for her opposition to this bankruptcy bill pushed by the big banks, but go on to talk about how she, as New York senator, seemed she could not afford that principled position.

WARREN: I've made it clear--I've been working on for the last 25 years--that I'm worried a lot about power in the financial services industry. And I'm worried about the fact that basically starting in the '80s, you know, the cops were taken off the beat in financial services, these guys were allowed to just paint a bull's eye on the backsides of American families. They loaded up on risk. They crashed the economy. They got bailed out. And what bothers me now is they still strut around Washington. They block regulations that they don't want. They roll over agencies whenever they can.

Q: Did they roll over Hillary Clinton?

WARREN: Well, they break the law, and still don't end up being held accountable for it, and going to jail.

Source: ABC This Week 2014 series of 2016 presidential hopefuls , Apr 27, 2014

Banks are larger now than when "Too Big To Fail" in 2008

[By 2008] everyone had grown to hate "Too Big To Fail"--except for the bankers who benefited. A no-strings-attached bailout created a Too Big to Fail monster, and I was pretty sure we'd be paying for that mistake for a long time.

In fact, the price of Too Big to Fail is still weighing on our economy. Concentration in the banking industry was one of the principle problems cited at the time TARP [the bank bailout] was passed, and yet, the largest financial institutions are now 30% LARGER than they were before the financial crisis and the 5 biggest banks now hold more than half of all banking assets in the US. This is based on our calculation of assets for the top 4 banks, which grew from a combined $6 trillion to $7.8 trillion between 2007 and 2013. Similarly, one report in 2012 showed that the top 5 banks are about twice as large as they had been a decade earlier relative to the economy.

Source: A Fighting Chance, by Elizabeth Warren, p.110&301 , Apr 22, 2014

2010 Time cover story: The sheriff of Wall Street

In 2010, Time magazine was writing a story on "the new sheriffs of Wall Street," and they wanted to interview me. The "hook" was that the 3 people they planned to feature were all women: Sheila Blair, FDIC chair; Mary Schapiro, SEC chair; and me.

All 3 of us knew what this photo shoot was really about: it was an opportunity to deliver a message to a lot of people about why Wall Street needed to be held to a higher standard of accountability. And what I suspect each of us felt that the cover story raised a question we'd all thought about, even if we didn't dwell on it: Given that women were so conspicuously absent from the ranks of top executives in high finance, how was it that 3 women had ended up in leadership positions when it came time for the badly needed cleanup?

So what is it about finance that makes women so scarce in the corner offices? And why indeed were 3 women now the sheriffs of Wall Street? I do have a thought about why I had ended up in this position: I was an outsider.

Source: A Fighting Chance, by Elizabeth Warren, p.122-3 , Apr 22, 2014

My gaffe: Created intellectual foundation for Occupy Wall St

[In 2011], Wall Street was going full throttle and Occupy Boston was making headlines, so I spent time talking about Wall Street--the lack of accountability, the need for change.

I was surprised when a "Daily Beast" headline blared, "Warren Takes Credit for Occupy Wall Street." Why on earth would I have said that? When asked about the activists involved in Occupy Wall Street, I'd said that I understood their frustration but I had no connection to the protests.

[But I checked my] recording of the interview: the sentence was there. Incredibly, I'd said: "I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they [Occupy Wall Street] do." I was trying to say that I'd worked on these issues for a long time and felt really angry about what the banks had done to families. But the quote didn't come out that way at all.

I was deeply embarrassed. My words sounded so puffy and self-important, and they made it seem as if I were trying to take credit for a protest I wasn't even a part of.

Source: A Fighting Chance, by Elizabeth Warren, p.219-20 , Apr 22, 2014

Corporations are not people; but system is rigged for them

I talked about Mitt Romney's famous statement that "corporations are people":

"No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they love, and they die. And that matters. That matter because we don't run this country for corporations, we run it for people.

"People feel the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part. They're right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Wall Street CEOs--the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs--still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.

"Middle class families, people who run small businesses and struggle to meet payroll, people who worry about having enough money to make it to the end of the month. These folks don't resent that someone else makes more money. We're Americans. We celebrate success. We just don't want the game to be rigged."

Source: A Fighting Chance, by Elizabeth Warren, p.256 , Apr 22, 2014

FactCheck: negotiated insurance deal for asbestos victims

[In addressing people who had developed lung cancer from working with asbestos,] the solution was to create a trust and to fund it with all the money from the businesses and their insurance companies who would be held responsible. The trust system had been effective for many years, but it was challenged. We won that case in the Supreme Court.

After I left the case, a lower court held that the insurance company didn't need to pay as much money as it had offered, and the case was again appealed.

Factcheck.org stated: "Warren's version of the case has been publicly backed by several attorneys representing the asbestos victims, as well as leaders of an asbestos workers' union. `[Brown is flat out misrepresenting the facts,' Francis C. Boudrow, business manager for the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Union, Local No. 6 told the "Boston Globe." `It's offensive to all these people who've lost lives' to asbestos-related illness, he said."

Source: FactCheck in A Fighting Chance, by Elizabeth Warren, p.334 , Apr 22, 2014

FactCheck: Insurers should pay victims, plus future immunity

Brown charged Warren for her work for Travelers Insurance in a case involving asbestos victims. Brown said Warren helped the company deny payment to asbestos poisoning victims. Brown's facts were largely true, but the impression he left was somewhat misleading. Brown said, "She helped Travelers deny benefits for asbestos poisoning, made over $250,000 in an effort to protect big corporations."

The Globe's conclusion after an extensive examination: Warren was paid $212,000 by Travelers from 2008 to 2010. Warren helped Travelers win a case that gave the company immunity from most asbestos lawsuits, and a $500 million trust fund has not been paid out because of a court order that Travelers won after Warren's work on the case ended.

But at the time, most asbestos victims were actually on Warren's side of the issue. She was fighting, she says, to unlock the $500 million trust, which Travelers said at the time it was willing to pay out in order to gain immunity and settle all the outstanding claims.

Source: Boston Globe 2012 FactCheck on Mass. Senate Debate , Sep 21, 2012

People feel like the system is rigged, because it is

People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: they're right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies. Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Wall Street CEOs--the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs--still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.

Anyone here have a problem with that? Well I do.

Source: 2012 Democratic National Convention speech , Sep 5, 2012

Rebuild the middle class instead of CEO tax breaks

Now is the time to rebuild America's middle class. Instead of giving tax breaks to the already-rich and already-powerful, to the corporations and CEOs who have already made it, it's time America recognized the working people and small businesses who are still trying to build a future.
Source: 2012 Senate campaign website, elizabethwarren.com , Dec 10, 2011

Same rules for trillion-dollar institutions as rest of us

Today, Warren says, one "vision of how America works is that it's an even game, that anybody can get started--just roll those dice; that booms and busts will come and millions of people will lose their homes, millions more will lose their jobs, and trillions of dollars in savings retirement accounts will be wiped out. The question is, Do we have a different vision of what we can do? This agency is out here in a sense to try to hold accountable a financial-services industry that ran wild, that brought our economy to the edge of collapse," she said. "There's been such a sense that there's one set of rules for trillion-dollar financial institutions and a different set for all the rest of us. It's so pervasive that it's not even hidden."
Source: By Suzanna Andrews in Vanity Fair, "Woman Who Knew Too Much" , Nov 1, 2011

Bankruptcies result from mishaps, not from gaming the system

As a professor at the University of Houston Warren started researching how bankruptcy law was going to be reshaped in a federal legal overhaul that same year. She set out to prove what the business community was, at that point, incensed about: people gaming the system, irresponsibly running up debts and then discharging them in court.

The reality she found, however, traveling from one courthouse to the next, was altogether different from the one she'd expected, and far more complex: the filings came overwhelmingly from working people who had suffered mishaps and bad luck--illnesses, deaths of family members and spouses, divorces, and economic downdrafts that often swallowed communities whole.

Source: Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind, p. 78 , Sep 20, 2011

Plenty of people look out for billion dollar corporations

There are plenty of people in Washington looking out for the billion dollar corporations. My life's work has been fighting for middle class families, taking on big banks, and putting forward new ideas.

We need a 21st century manufacturing base and expanded service capacity. We need a set of workable rules that don't tangle up those trying to create something new. We need to be able to invent things, make things, and sell things to the rest of the world. We did that once, and we can do it again.

Source: 2012 Senate campaign website, www.elizabethwarren.com , Sep 15, 2011

Small businesses need a level playing field

A level playing field: Our self-employed and small businesses, and the community banks that fund them, are drowning in complicated regulations. Long, complex rules create loopholes that the big companies can take advantage of, but they leave little guys out in the cold. We need rules that are written with small businesses in mind. We need straightforward rules that any small business can deal with, like the short and streamlined mortgage form the consumer agency is putting into law.
Source: 2012 Senate campaign website, www.elizabethwarren.com , Sep 15, 2011

New regulatory regime to protect financial consumers

Just as the Consumer Product Safety Commission protects buyers of goods and supports a competitive market, we need the same for consumers of financial products--a new regulatory regime, and even a new regulatory body, to protect consumers who use credit cards, home mortgages, car loans, and a host of other products.
Source: Salon.com, "Wall Street Run Amok", by Conrad Capto , Oct 25, 2010

Scourge of the banking industry, on behalf of consumers

Obama knew Warren had become the scourge of the baking industry for her efforts on behalf of consumers. When they met at a Cambridge fund-raiser during his 2004 Senate campaign, his first words to her were "Predatory lending!" He had learned of Warren's work when legislating on behalf of credit card users in the Illinois State Senate.

A crackdown on credit cards was one of the president's early and almost entirely unnoticed victories. In May he signed sweeping legislation that limited fees, required disclosure of rate hikes before they were imposed, and ended the industry's practice of preying on college student before they were 21. But Congress erred badly in not making it effective immediately, which meant that Americans saw unconscionably higher interest rates on their credit card until 2010.

Source: The Promise: Obama Year One, by Jonathan Alter, p.196 , May 18, 2010

Businesses aren't guilty over bankruptcy; neither should you

Think like a businessperson. Do you imagine the CEO of United Airlines and the president of K-Mart were wracked with guilt when their companies filed for bankruptcy? We doubt it. They did what they thought best for their shareholders and customers, and if that meant some creditors ended up with the short end of the stick, then so be it. They saw it simply as a matter of business. When you family's welfare is at stake, so should you.
Source: The Two Income Trap, by Elizabeth Warren, p. 171 , Oct 15, 2007

Apply consumer protection rules to banks

It is impossible to buy a toaster that has a one-in-five chance of bursting into flames and burning down your house. But it is possible to refinance an existing home with a mortgage that has the same one-in-five chance of putting the family out on the street--and the mortgage won't even carry a disclosure of that fact to the homeowner. Similarly, it's impossible to change the price on a toaster once it has been purchased. But long after the papers have been signed, it is possible to triple the price of the credit used to finance the purchase of that appliance, even if the customer meets all the credit terms, in full and on time. Why are consumers safe when they purchase tangible consumer products with cash, but when they sign up for routine financial products like mortgages and credit cards they are left at the mercy of their creditors?
Source: Elizabeth Warren in Democracy Journal, "Unsafe at Any Rate" , Jul 2, 2007

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Page last updated: Aug 18, 2016