While often dry and dull, the front and end matter of a document—the stuff at the beginning and end that most readers skip over or consider largely unimportant—can include important tidbits for those who know how to look for them. Such a tidbit came in the “Acknowledgments” section of a recent report released by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), entitled Unsafe Harbor: The Persistent Harms of High-Cost Installment Loans.
CRL purports to be an organization fighting for everyday consumers while a large part of its efforts belie that goal, particularly the group’s sustained and long-running efforts to eliminate innovative financial products that offer credit to many consumers who are unable to access it elsewhere. A good example of these efforts is the aforementioned report, which—in typical CRL fashion—starts with a conclusion and then bends over backward to engineer premises that lead to it.
As CRL notes in the report’s acknowledgments, one of the contributors who aided and abetted the organization’s cirque du soleil-like contortions to cherry-pick facts in pursuit of an outcome was a gentleman named David Silberman, who has long supported the anti-credit cause. Mr. Silberman’s long history as an anti-credit extremist was qualification enough to be named one of the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) first staff members in 2011, and upon retiring from the Bureau after nearly a decade, he quickly found a warm home at CRL as a senior fellow.
While it is certainly not uncommon for regulators to leave government service for the cushier fellowship life, what should be less common is for governmental bodies looking for an honest assessment of financial issues to hire someone with Mr. Silberman’s voluminous resume of activism in this space. Yet that’s exactly what Colorado did when it decided to spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money and hire Mr. Silberman to study the availability of safe and affordable credit access in the state.
With his participation in this study, Mr. Silberman is pretending to be an honest actor, an umpire without a fandom who merely calls the balls and strikes as he sees it without attempting to tilt the game in favor of one team or another. But his long history could not be more crystal clear in exposing that pretense as a farce.
The truth is that Mr. Silberman is a big government, Obama-era financial extremist who is overseeing a report that will fundamentally change the financial system in Colorado and, potentially, the nation as a whole. And given these high stakes, the study deserves better than someone with preordained and firmly held biases that will without question play a role here.
So when Mr. Silberman sets out to answer the questions at the heart of the Colorado study—i.e. who is or is not able to access credit in Colorado from non-depository institutions and is the credit provided by non-depository institutions safe and affordable—can we really trust that the answers he arrives at will contradict his prior conclusions, misguided and dishonest as they are?
A study with the ramifications of the one Colorado is undertaking deserves an honest arbiter. Sadly, Mr. Silberman is far from that. During his time in government service (and after it, for that matter), he routinely and aggressively targeted the very products he is now charged with assessing the safety and affordability of.
As Antonio says in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “what’s past is prologue.” History creates the background for the present and the future. And Mr. Silberman’s well-documented history of financial extremism and consumer activism should be plainly disqualifying.
The state of Colorado, if it wants to maintain any shred of legitimacy for this report, should rethink the outfit it hired to create it.