Elizabeth Warren Speaks at Roosevelt House

Elizabeth Warren Speaks at Roosevelt House

President Jennifer Raab, Elizabeth Warren, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney

President Jennifer J. Raab and Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney welcomed Elizabeth Warren at Roosevelt House on Thursday, June 9, 2011 for a discussion and Q&A.  Warren serves as Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Most recently, she served as the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard University.

“In just one generation,” Warren noted, “the economics of the middle class shifted.”  After World War II, until the early 70’s, men’s wages rose but then men’s income flat-lined, and from the 70’s to the early 2000’s a significant change occurred: “income composition shifted and laws governing borrowing changed.”  Warren stressed the importance of rebuilding the middle class.

What happens when outstanding revolving debt as a share of disposable personal income increases?  Warren is a dynamic and charismatic speaker; she has the gift of making the obscure intelligible by focusing not only on what went wrong with the US economy, but by shedding light on the architecture of a “completely changed landscape.”  At the epicenter of this landscape, of course, are deregulation and lack of accountability.

“Franklin Roosevelt believed we could have better,” Warren said.  She spoke of making markets work for families by eliminating the fine print (she has taught, and is passionate about, contract law), and by making prices clear and comparisons easy.  Warren spoke, too, of making markets work for businesses, one of the goals of which is to restore confidence in our country.

Warren has written nine books—her latest two, The Two-Income Trap and All Your Worth, have been on national bestseller lists—and more than a hundred scholarly articles.  Time Magazine has twice named her one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World, and the National Law Journal named her one of the Most Influential Lawyers of the Decade.

“I grew up poor,” Warren said during the Q&A.  She went on to say that she was able to attend the University of Houston for only $54 per semester and that the current pay-for-it-yourself model just doesn’t work.  “Without a strong middle class,” Warren added, “we are not the America we believe in.” 

One of Warren’s priorities is making mortgage forms comprehensible and putting a stop to “mugging by contract.”  She brought a sample to share with the audience (14,000 people have already given feedback online) and she invited the guests to take a look and make suggestions. 

Warren’s message was optimistic and it affirmed the importance of Hunter’s mission as an institution that makes education available to those often overlooked.  Americans must feel empowered not only because, “we cannot run a democracy without a strong middle class,” but also because, “America’s middle class is America.”

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