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Book review: 'Financial Justice' details passage of Consumer Protection Act

Published: Saturday, June 22 2013 12:00 p.m. MDT

"FINANCIAL JUSTICE: The People's Campaign to Stop Lender Abuse," by Robert N. Mayer and Larry Kirsch, Praeger, $48, 236 pages (nf)

In 2007, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., then a professor of consumer and bankruptcy law at Harvard Law School, wrote a paper called "A Fair Deal for Families: The Need for a Financial Products Safety Commission," which ran in a small academic publication called "Democracy."

Three years later, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. How one woman's idea became law is the story told by Larry Kirsch and Robert N. Mayer in their new book "Financial Justice: The People's Campaign to Stop Lender Abuse."

Kirsch, an economist at a consulting firm in Oregon, and Mayer, a professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, state up front that they are supporters of the CFPB. The book begins with a forward by Barney Frank and ends with an interview with Senator Warren.

Frank, Warren, an advocate named Heather Booth and other leaders of the fight to pass Dodd-Frank are clearly the heroes of the narrative, and the authors do not provide an objective view of whether the CFPB was a good idea in the first place.

But their book is far from polemic. Instead, it digs in to how the sausage is made in getting a piece of legislation passed through the American political machine, especially when faced with fierce opposition from major financial players.

They describe key moments in the creation of the CFPB legislation: the formation of a unified and pragmatic advocacy group called Americans for Financial Reform, the inevitable congressional bargaining and compromise and the media campaign to get Americans on the side of consumer financial reform.

While the book occasionally gets bogged down in detail, the authors mostly succeed in making dry, complicated topics like federal pre-emption and congressional procedure accessible and entertaining. Interviews with important political players provide a good dose of human drama.

The battle over the CFPB is in no way complete. Congressional Republicans still dispute Obama's constitutional authority to nominate Richard Cordray director of the CFPB and want to see fundamental changes made to the agency, issues that will likely come to a head this summer.

While the future of the CFPB is uncertain, Kirsch and Mayer's book provides a good guide to how the agency came to be despite the odds stacked against it.

If you go ...

What: Robert N. Mayer and Larry Kirsch signing

When: Wednesday, June 26, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

EMAIL: dmerling@deseretnews.com

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