Aaron interviewed Elizabeth Warren on TechTicker yesterday. As usual, she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.
Aaron Task, TechTicker: Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, is the rare public official who doesn’t mince words.
But Warren admits to being “speechless” at reports of record bonuses on Wall Street.
“I do not understand how financial institutions could think they could take taxpayer money and turn around and act like it’s business as usual,” Warren says. “I don’t understand how they can’t see that the world has changed in a fundamental way – it’s not business as usual. All I can say right now is they seem to be winning this argument.”
In the accompanying video, taped at The Economist’s Buttonwood Gathering at Pace University, I asked Warren about Treasury Secretary’s claim at the same event that the government has been “remarkably effective” in combating the financial crisis.
“It is not the case people go to bed wondering if there will be an economy in the morning,” she quips, but “we still have lot of serious problems.”
Comparing the situation today vs. a year ago, Warren observes:
- Even Too Bigger to Fail: A year ago the big concern was systemic risk and how to deal with ‘too big to fail’ firms, she recalls. Now “the big are bigger, we wiped out a lot of small folks and there’s more concentration” in the banking system.
- Still Toxic: TARP was created explicitly to remove toxic assets from bank balance sheets. “They’re still there by and large.”
- Stress Test Failure: Unemployment has “blown through” the worst-case scenario in the stress test from February, Warren notes. But “we haven’t repeated the stress test, or revealed any more information about what’s going on inside these financial institutions.”
In sum, “all the things going on [a year ago] that were serious, serious problems for the financial institutions seem to me are still serious, serious problems,” she says.
Finally, Warren pulls no punches when it comes to her criticism of former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for his failure to put any restrictions on or monitoring of the initial TARP funds, and for using the money for something other than “toxic asset relief,” as originally intended.
“I have a real problem when we describe to taxpayers their money will be taken and used one way and in fact it’s used another way,” she declares.
So in the end, Warren did find her voice and spoke quite candidly, a very rare trait among public officials.
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