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The Importance of Perspective

Perspective is everything, isn’t it? It’s what can unite us and so often divides us. It reminds me of an old journalism adage: never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

The objective of this post is not to skew perspective, but to relay facts and illustrate how people can interpret those facts to fit their narrative about a situation.

First, let’s begin with the news that the New York Department of Financial Services, has created a Consumer Protection Task Force. Looking at the names and organizations of the Task Force’s members, it’s clear there was a certain direction that the NYDFS wanted to take.

  • Chuck Bell, Consumer Reports
  • Elisabeth Benjamin, Community Service Society
  • Carolyn Coffey, Mobilization for Justice
  • Beth Finkel, New York State Office, AARP
  • Jacob (“Jay”) Inwald, Legal Services NYC
  • Paul Kantwill, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
  • Neha M. Karambelkar, Staff Attorney, Western New York Law Center
  • Kirsten E. Keefe, Empire Justice Center
  • Peter Kochenburger, University of Connecticut Law School
  • Sarah Ludwig, New Economy Project
  • Frankie Miranda, Hispanic Federation
  • Cy Richardson, National Urban League

Unless I miss my guess, there contains not a single representative from the financial services industry on that list. There are no shortage of consumer advocates, but a definite shortage of industry voices.

Let me hit the pause button on this news for a minute so I can introduce the other piece of news. Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced the creation of a Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law. Here are the members:

  • Dr. J. Howard Beales, III, former Professor of Strategic Management and Public Policy at the George Washington University and former Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission
  • Dr. Thomas Durkin, Senior Economist (Retired) at the Federal Reserve Board
  • L. Jean Noonan, Partner at Hudson Cook, former General Counsel at the Farm Credit Administration, and former Associate Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s Credit Practice at the Federal Trade Commission
  • Todd J. Zywicki, Professor of Law at George Mason University (GMU) Antonin Scalia Law School, Senior Fellow of the Cato Institute, and former Executive Director of the GMU Law and Economics Center

Here is where the perspective part comes in. Ed Mierzwinski, the senior director of the federal consumer program for USPIRG, an advocacy group, is not happy with the composition of the CFPB’s taskforce, going as far as to call it a “task farce.

“To my knowledge, none have worked for consumer protection organizations yet all have worked as industry lawyers or consultants or been publicly aligned with industry views,” Mierzwinski writes.

I have not seen anyone from the industry standing up to criticize the NYDFS for not including representatives from the financial services industry to serve on its consumer protection taskforce.

I am not here today to offer any opinions on the composition of either taskforce and whether the NYDFS or the CFPB were right or wrong to do what they did. I merely wanted to make sure that (a) everyone knew about the creation of these two task forces, and (b) remind everyone that listening to an opposing viewpoint is not a bad thing. One of my favorite scenes from “Bohemian Rhapsody” was Freddie Mercury trying to explain to the rest of the band why his solo attempt failed so miserably. “I went to Munich,” Freddie says in the movie. “I hired a bunch of guys, I told them exactly what to do and the problem was, they did it. No push-back from Roger, none of Brian’s re-writes, none of John’s funny looks. I need you, and you need me.” We all might be better off if we came to the same conclusion.

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