I’m writing this from Portland, Oregon, the site of this year’s national Consumer Rights Litigation Conference. The conference is sponsored by the National Consumer Law Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates. There are about 1,500 people here, and all of them are working hard every day to make the world a better place for consumers — otherwise known as regular people who spend money, buy things, and pay debts.
The whole concept of consumer rights is one that may not be familiar to many people, since it encompasses such a broad, wide-ranging set of issues. Some consumer rights issues that you may have heard about in the news recently are toys from China with lead paint; food safety; the rising costs of health insurance; and of course, the mortgage crisis.
Until recently, many of my friends and colleagues didn’t really think the mortgage crisis would affect them. They didn’t have a subprime mortgage, and they were not behind in any payments. Most of them had purchased homes long enough ago that even when prices started to go down, they still had ample equity in their homes. A few of my older friends and my parents have already paid for their homes, and don’t even have a mortgage. I think everyone now realizes that this mortgage crisis effects every single American; indeed, it probably effects the entire world.
The good news is, there are more lawyers and advocates every day, in Seattle, in Washington, and all around the United States, who are working to help prevent mortgage foreclosures and fight back against unethical debt collectors and abusive lending practices. And what a remarkable group of people they are: talented, smart, hardworking people who are passionate about protecting consumer rights.
But there is so much hard work to do, in the face of years of deregulation and unbridled greed. We are about to have an election, and a new administration will take over in the midst of this huge economic crisis. So far, neither candidate shows much inclination to change the fundamental structure of the bailout or to take the sort of radical action that would be needed to stem the tsunami of foreclosures headed our way. A prominent speaker at the conference today pointed out that the last several years have been a period essentially marked by lawlessness, at least as it concerns our financial systems. If you think about what usually happens when a new sheriff comes to town to take care of the bad guys, it isn’t very pretty! We are in for some hard times ahead.
I’ll be writing over the coming week about what I learned at the conference, and what I think we should be asking our government to do about it. The road ahead is going to be hard, but we are a strong, resilient people, and we can make it better if we work together.