A Tale of Two Movements: Consumer Protection in the U.S. from 1969 to 2010
The passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 and subsequent establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau marked an unexpected victory for consumers across America at the expense of the well-financed business lobby. Although classical social scientists, such as Mancur Olson, claim that consumer movements should fail to emerge due to the difficulty of providing public goods for large constituencies, consumer victories – like the passage of Dodd-Frank— have occurred in waves throughout the last century. In conducting this study, I thus sought to answer why it is that some consumer movements are able to push through consumer legislation while others fail. In order to answer this question, I conducted two cases studies, comparing Ralph Nader’s failed attempt to establish a Consumer Protection Agency in the 1970s with Elizabeth Warren’s successful push to create Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010. Ultimately my research demonstrates that three variables are critical to the passage of consumer legislation: 1) the opening of a policy window via key events, 2) the existence of favorable structural conditions in the policy making process, and 3) the ability of political entrepreneurs to utilize successful legislative and framing strategies that help them advance their agenda within the broader environmental context. Based upon these determinants, I suggest that a policy window has been opened for the consumer movement following the 2008 financial crisis due to an ideological shift from Friedman to Keynes which primed the current environment, the support of a Progressive Democratic President, and strong public support for consumer protection.