Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Elizabeth Warren, the new consumer czar of the White House, has her work cut out for her: build a brand new federal agency charged with protecting American consumers, stave off Republican attempts to kill that agency before it even gets off the ground, and go head to head with the financial services industry to make credit card applications and mortgages much easier to read and understand.
With all that on her plate, you might expect Warren to shy away from tough and slightly controversial questions, but that's just not her style. When asked if she thought we'd be in the financial mess we're in if more women had a seat at the decision-making tables on Wall Street, she didn't hesitate. "I think if more women had had seats at the table, we just would not have had a crisis like this," the Harvard law professor told me during an interview inside one of the War Rooms at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the White House.
Warren cites two big differences between women and men. Women are "especially good" at fighting on behalf of others and are often outsiders, she says. "The outsider status was missing," says Warren. "There were a bunch of insiders talking to insiders and that's how they ended up blowing up the economic world.
"So my view on this is I want to see a lot of women get involved, a lot of women," Warren continues. Amen to that.
In our wide-ranging interview, which included questions from the iVillage Community and from our iVoices on iVillage, we covered a host of issues:
Why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created:
"We got it because it mattered to millions of American families. They said we are sick of the fine print, we are sick of being tricked in the marketplace, we want a voice in Washington, we want someone who is going to level the playing field between us and the Wall Street banks."
On the new GOP-controlled House of Representatives taking power in January:
"There are those who have said what they'd like to do is tear the arms and legs off the agency before it gets started so it will always be ineffective…and all I can say is no." (Warren recently told CNBC that "We're not a partisan agency -- we're here for American families.")
On credit card reforms:
"We really need to change the credit card experience. It needs to be something where the price is clear up front, where the risk is clear up front and where people can make comparisons from one card to another."
Warren, who's the daughter of a janitor, says her family struggled financially during her childhood years and believes that experience will help her in her new role. "The absence of money can become a monster in the room," she says. "If you can kind of get that under control…then you get to live your life about the things you want to live your life about, that's how it should be. I hope that's what our agency is able to help with."
Kelly Wallace ivillage.com