Black Friday and Cyber Monday are either the two most important shopping days of the year or part of a brilliant marketing ploy perpetrated by US retailers en mass. Whether or not these after-Thanksgiving sale-a-thons are as necessary as people believe, customers are the focal point of the two prominent capitalist holidays. If the US government was to ever dedicate a holiday to consumers, which international advocates hope to make March, 15th World Consumer Rights Day, Black Friday or Cyber Monday would both be good choices. It is, therefore, ironic that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its dueling directors would steal the spotlight with a bizarre story.
When Director Richard Cordray resigned from the agency, chief of staff Leandra English became the presumed acting director. President Donald Trump then immediately named Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney to the position. English has since filed a restraining order against the Trump Administration to block the appointment of Mulvaney while Mulvaney is already taking on the responsibilities of his part-time new job by placing a hold on hiring and rule-making. Due to conflicting Federal laws, it is not clear who has the legal authority to assume control of the CFPB, which creates an interesting and highly symbolic situation.
As a product of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act and the Great Repression, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was crafted to afford consumers protection from the predatory practices of powerful businesses. To ensure the integrity and effectiveness of the CFPB, Democrats decided to shield the agency from highly influential lobbyists and the meddling of pro-business politicians by deploying a number of measures that would insulate the agency from political shifts. These measures include a five-year appointment for the director and guaranteed funding through the Federal Reserve.
Some critics believe these measures were solely political in nature and designed to deny Republicans any influence over the agency. Although Democrats controlled government at the time of the CFPB’s inception and the agency was staffed by Democrats, these same “protections” could later prevent Democrats from regaining control over the agency after a Republican takeover. If it is true that Democrats were solely concerned about Republican influence, it reveals the highly-partisan and narrow thinking of Democrats, which is also shared by Republicans. The threat is not Republicans. Republicans may be “pro-business,” which can mean many things, but so are many Democrats. Quite frankly, both Democrats and Republicans are susceptible to special interest lobbying.
Whether or not the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been as politicized as partisan critics believe, lawmakers clearly wanted to prevent saboteurs from seizing control. As a critic of the CFPB and appointee of CFPB critic Donald Trump, Mick Mulvaney represents a grave threat to CFPB advocates. In contrast, agency insider Leandra English represents a guardian of consumer rights. Who is what, of course, largely depends on one’s political views. What Trump has allegedly asked Mulvaney to do is “protects people without trampling on capitalism,” which is either a measured approach or code for sabotage.
Obviously, the Courts will have to sort out the legal issues while the political bickering will continue. None of these things truly matter to average consumers. What does matter is the ability of consumers to resolve issues they have with businesses. Markets work best when consumers and suppliers are able to enter into mutually beneficial exchanges. Unfortunately, the relationship between consumers and businesses is often far too lopsided. When businesses use their advantage over consumes to further their own interests above that of their consumers, the market cannot function properly. As such, government needs to offer consumers a little extra leverage by becoming a consumer advocate. It is what all sides need to remember when deciding the future of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
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