Public Goods Post
thinking about the public economy
What Happens When Government is
Too Successful?

October 2017  Vol. 2, No. 10
Despite decades of efforts by anti-public forces to defund, outsource or dismantle government agencies and programs, most government agencies continue to churn out essential services, products and protections every day. They do this quietly and successfully, with little recognition. 
One such agency is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Relatively new, it was established under the “Dodd-Frank” legislation that was passed after the financial and economic implosion of 2008.
The agency’s mission is to protect American consumers from financial abuses and predatory practices. It has done its job well. Its two call centers (one in Iowa and one in New Mexico) handle 25,000 calls monthly and 22,000 complaints each month. On behalf of 29,000,000 consumers It has extracted nearly $12 billion in refunds and canceled debts. Further, the CFPB has “curtailed abusive debt collection practices, reformed mortgage lending, publicized and investigated hundreds of thousands of complaints from aggrieved customers of financial institutions…” 
And what’s the result of such success? An all-out battle to gut or kill the agency.
The Republican-controlled Congress and White House have taken deadly aim at the CFPB – in several ways:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has introduced the CFPB Repeal Act to “eliminate” the agency. And if it can’t be killed outright, efforts are also underway to hamstring and hogtie the CFPB. The headlines of recent articles make clear the implications of these attacks:

Fighting to make sure that the little guy gets crushed
Republicans to predatory companies: Grab as much as you can
The Watchdog Protecting Consumers May Be Too Effective  

Most Americans don’t even know about the CFPB or what it does for them. In a survey earlier this year, 80% of respondents had no inkling about the bureau or what it does.
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The CFPB is an example – just one of many – of a federal operation that is punished for its success: being too efficient and too effective.
As with many other public goods, like the Air Traffic Control System, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the VHA hospital system, success means being targeted for elimination or privatization. (In the latter case, the operation is handed over to a private corporation for profit-making at taxpayers’ expense, while services to the public are degraded.)
So, while “government” is maligned as inefficient and unresponsive by corporate interests with big megaphones, the anti-public leadership in Washington is quietly dismantling those effective and efficient public institutions that produce the public goods vital to our daily lives, livelihoods, health, safety and financial security.
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The Public Goods Post has been created by June Sekera, 
Founder and Director of the Public Goods Institute; and Research Fellow at the 
Global Development And Environment Institute, Tufts University.

The Public Goods Post is produced by Daniel Agostino.

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