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It was in 1979 that Warren had her Damascene conversion - the experience that would lead her to become the nation's top authority on the economic pressures facing the American middle class, and trigger her passionate advocacy. In 1978, Congress had passed a law that made it easier for companies and individuals to declare bankruptcy. Warren decided to investigate the reasons why Americans were ending up in bankruptcy court. "I set out to prove they were all a bunch of cheaters," she said in a 2007 interview. "I was going to expose these people who were taking advantage of the rest of us." What she found, after conducting with two colleagues one of the most rigorous bankruptcy studies ever, shook her deeply. The vast majority of those in bankruptcy courts, she discovered, were from hardworking middle-class families, people who lost jobs or had "family breakups" or illnesses that wiped out their savings. "It changed my vision," she said.

From then on, Warren would focus her research on the economic forces bearing down on the American middle class. She would chart the disintegration of government policies that, since the New Deal, had helped create perhaps the strongest middle class in the world - in particular, the deregulation of the banks that began in the 1980s. It was a process that she says transformed the middle class into "the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner," carved, "pulled from," picked at, something from which everyone "could make a profit." Her research into how that profit was made would take her into the world of subprime and teaser-rate mortgages, huge credit-card and checking-account penalties, and everything that was buried deep in incomprehensibly worded fine print - the "tricks and traps," as she calls them, that banks used to lure people into increasingly risky credit products. It would be her immense knowledge of banking practices that would make her such a dangerous and natural foe to Wall Street.


Elizabeth Warren: The Woman Who Knew Too Much | 2011-10-11
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