The CFPB is genuinely making America better, and they’re going HARD

Fighting corporate crime with both fists and 7–2 SCOTUS backing.

Cory Doctorow
4 min read3 days ago
A 1901 cover of FAMOUS FIGHTS magazine, an engraving depicting an outdoor boxing ring in which a triumphant boxer has knocked his opponent back into the ropes. A crowd of old-fashioned men crowd around the fight and cheer. The image has been altered. It has been colorized in false watercolor tones. The head of the triumphant boxer has been replaced with a grinning Uncle Sam. The head of the vanquished boxer has been replaced with a cigar-chomping, top-hatted capitalist from a midcentury Soviet p

On June 20, I’m keynoting the Locus Awards in Oakland, CA. On July 14, I’m giving the closing keynote for the fifteenth Hackers On Planet Earth, in Queens, NY.

Let’s take a sec here and notice something genuinely great happening in the US government: the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s stunning, unbroken streak of major, muscular victories over the forces of corporate corruption, with the backing of the Supreme Court (yes, that Supreme Court), and which is only speeding up!

A little background. The CFPB was created in 2010. It was Elizabeth Warren’s brainchild, an institution that was supposed to regulate finance from the perspective of the American public, not the American finance sector. Rather than fighting to “stabilize” the financial sector (the mission that led to Obama taking his advisor Timothy Geithner’s advice to permit the foreclosure crisis to continue in order to “foam the runways” for the banks), the Bureau would fight to defend us from bankers.

The CFPB got off to a rocky start, with challenges to the unique system of long-term leadership appointments meant to depoliticize the office, as well as the sudden resignation of its inaugural boss, who broke his promise to see his term through in order to launch an unsuccessful bid for political office.

But after the 2020 election, the Bureau came into its own, when Biden poached Rohit Chopra from the FTC and put him in charge. Chopra went on a tear, taking on landlords who violated the covid eviction moratorium:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/20/euthanize-rentier-enablers/#cfpb

Then banning payday lenders’ scummiest tactics:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/01/29/planned-obsolescence/#academic-fraud

Then striking at one of fintech’s most predatory grifts, the “earned wage access” hustle:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/05/01/usury/#tech-exceptionalism

Then closing the loophole that let credit reporting bureaus (like Equifax, who doxed every single American in a spectacular 2019 breach) avoid regulation by creating data brokerage divisions and claiming they weren’t part of the regulated activity of credit reporting:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/08/16/the-second-best-time-is-now/#the-point-of-a-system-is-what-it-does

Chopra went on to promise to ban data-brokers altogether:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/04/13/goulash/#material-misstatement

Then he banned comparison shopping sites where you go to find the best bank accounts and credit cards from accepting bribes and putting more expensive options at the top of the list. Instead, he’s requiring banks to send the CFPB regular, accurate lists of all their charges, and standing up a federal operated comparison shopping site that gives only accurate and honest rankings. Finally, he’s made an interoperability rule requiring banks to let you transfer to another institution with one click, just like you change phone carriers. That means you can search an honest site to find the best deal on your banking, and then, with a single click, transfer your accounts, your account history, your payees, and all your other banking data to that new bank:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/10/21/let-my-dollars-go/#personal-financial-data-rights

Somewhere in there, big business got scared. They cooked up a legal theory declaring the CFPB’s funding mechanism to be unconstitutional and got the case fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, in a bid to put Chopra and the CFPB permanently out of business. Instead, the Supremes — these Supremes! — upheld the CFPB’s funding mechanism in a 7–2 ruling:

https://www.scotusblog.com/2024/05/supreme-court-lets-cfpb-funding-stand/

That ruling was a starter pistol for Chopra and the Bureau. Maybe it seemed like they were taking big swings before, but it turns out all that was just a warmup. Last week on The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner rounded up all the stuff the Bureau is kicking off:

https://prospect.org/blogs-and-newsletters/tap/2024-06-07-window-on-corporate-deceptions/

First: regulating Buy Now, Pay Later companies (think: Klarna) as credit-card companies, with all the requirements for disclosure and interest rate caps dictated by the Truth In Lending Act:

https://www.skadden.com/insights/publications/2024/06/cfpb-applies-credit-card-rules

Next: creating a registry of habitual corporate criminals. This rogues gallery will make it harder for other agencies — like the DOJ — and state Attorneys General to offer bullshit “delayed prosecution agreements” to companies that compulsively rip us off:

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-creates-registry-to-detect-corporate-repeat-offenders/

Then there’s the rule against “fine print deception” — which is when the fine print in a contract lies to you about your rights, like when a mortgage lender forces you waive a right you can’t actually waive, or car lenders that make you waive your bankruptcy rights, which, again, you can’t waive:

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-warns-against-deception-in-contract-fine-print/

As Kuttner writes, the common thread running through all these orders is that they ban deceptive practices — they make it illegal for companies to steal from us by lying to us. Especially in these dying days of class action suits — rapidly becoming obsolete thanks to “mandatory arbitration waivers” that make you sign away your right to join a class action — agencies like the CFPB are our only hope of punishing companies that lie to us to steal from us.

There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world right now, and much of it — including an active genocide — is coming from the Biden White House.

But there are people in the Biden Administration who care about the American people and who are effective and committed fighters who have our back. What’s more, they’re winning. That doesn’t make all the bad news go away, but sometimes it feels good to take a moment and take the W.

If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/06/10/getting-things-done/#deliverism

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