Author Archives: Matt Stoller

About Matt Stoller

From 2011-2012, Matt was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters, focusing on the intersection of foreclosures, the financial system, and political corruption. In 2012, he starred in “Brand X with Russell Brand” on the FX network, and was a writer and consultant for the show. He has also produced for MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. From 2009-2010, he worked as Senior Policy Advisor for Congressman Alan Grayson. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller.

The Young Turks Interviews Matt Stoller on the Audit of the Federal Reserve

In this interview, Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks and Matt Stoller discuss how Congress worked in 2009-2010, and why an audit of the Federal Reserve was able to get through a dysfunctional political system. It’s a long interview, with some echoing at the beginning, but it’s the most comprehensive discussion of how the fight actually […]


Barney Frank Viciously Attacks a Fellow Democrat: How TARP Still Hangs Over Our Politics

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at

Barney frank threw a little noticed temper tantrum in early August, intervening in a California Democratic primary between two incumbents, Brad Sherman and Howard Berman. Every ten years, lines for Congressional districts are redrawn, which sometimes throws sitting Congressmen into the same district. This is the case with Berman and Sherman, who hilariously sound alike and both have a similar hawkish posture on Israel. Berman chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and is a part of Democratic leadership. Sherman is a very senior member of the Financial Services Committee, and is generally seen as an iconoclast. The support of someone like Barney Frank can make a difference in such a primary, so his bitter attacks on Sherman suggest something more than your standard pique is at work here.

Frank, never one to mince words, said while he’d already endorsed Berman in the race, he’d planned on staying mostly uninvolved until Sherman claimed that he’d “had more to do with” the Dodd-Frank bill to regulate Wall Street “than anyone except Dodd and Frank,” and that he’d forced a major change in the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The former Financial Services Committee chairman and author of the Dodd-Frank scoffed at both claims.

“They are both appallingly off the mark, they are fantasies. I am a great admirer of Howard Berman. I am not an admirer of Brad Sherman’s approach, I think it’s superficial and headline-hunting,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “This is unfortunately what he does — makes things up to enhance his role, and there’s no basis for it.”

Frank pointed out that Sherman had voted against TARP both times when it came on the House floor, and said he’d had little to do with the Wall Street reform regulation.


Debt and Its Discontents: The Depressing World of Collections Part Three

This series is by Patrick Sahr, a Naked Capitalism reader and a former debt collector. Sahr is a graduate of Buffalo State College’s Print Journalism Program.

[Matt here]: This series is running because it’s important to understand the culture of debt collectors, who are increasingly a form of policing in our society. One in seven Americans is currently being pursued by a debt collector.

Debtors:  From Credit Enthusiasts to Cleaned Out in Seven Years

Debtors are different today than they were in 2004.  In 2004, debtors were generally, in conversation, wildly arrogant and optimistic.  Many were wise enough to know that paying a “charge-off” sometimes adversely affects a credit score and others bragged about securing additional lines of credit despite having others in default.  The type of debtor you speak with is contingent on the product you are collecting.  The recently charged-off sub-prime portfolio, in 04, was filled with arrogant knuckleheads who bought the bank’s program of wealth transfer hook, line and sinker ignoring their modest wages and assets.  They leveraged everything they owned to the max just like the banks.  The defaulted amex black card portfolio contained penny-ante corporate villains and upper-middle class people at the beginning of an unpleasant journey, a titanic professional and financial storm.  Letting go of your credit cards is the recommended first step when you batton down the hatches in preparation for that storm.


Why The Big Issues Are Missing from the 2012 Race

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at

One of the reasons I loved Neil Barofsky’s book Bailout is because it is a clear explanation of the incentive structures in our political system. One element of his story that you might find surprising is how rarely elections actually come up among policymakers. Careerism, intellectual capture, subtle forms of bribery, institutional embarrassment, intimidation, bureaucratic jujitsu – all of these have a massive impact on policy outcomes. But elections? Yes, they matter as well. But they aren’t that important. And if you read Bailout, or really just pay attention, what you’ll find is that policy simply didn’t change when Obama took over from Bush, which is a fundamental challenge to our notion of democracy, perhaps even more so than corporate money flooding into our elections.

That is, the idea that all politicians want to do is get elected, and therefore they are worth despising, is actually untrue. If it were true, then you would find politicians constantly proposing and implementing popular policies, like free universal health care, high taxes on corporations, jail for Wall Street bankers, and higher minimum wages. But they don’t do this. The reason, as I wrote in June of 2011 in Beyond Elections – the Hedging Theory of Political Elites, is that political actors are only interested in winning elections to the extent that strategies for winning don’t jeopardize their place in the political class.


Debt and Its Discontents: The Depressing World of Collections Part Two

This series is by Patrick Sahr, a Naked Capitalism reader and a former debt collector.

[Matt here]: This series is running because it’s important to understand the culture of debt collectors, who are increasingly a form of policing in our society.

Mixed Messages: High Turnover is bad, but it’s Music To the Collection Agency Owner’s Ears

Collection agencies are filled with a variety of people from different backgrounds like any other occupation.  Many are decent and hard-working.  Despite the popular conception that only the hateful and unpleasant seek employment as a debt collector, there are many in the industry who are honorable and kind.  They are capable of eking out a fair living under difficult circumstances in a local economy of dwindling opportunity.


Why Neil Barofsky’s Book “Bailout” Matters

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at

Neil Barofsky’s new memoir Bailout, is not just a great read, it’s also a very important story about what happened after the financial crisis. Barofsky, who was the Special Inspector General for TARP, was in a vantage point to view the entirety of the Obama policy apparatus, from the use of TARP to pad bank balance sheets to Treasury’s PPIP program to the reorganization of the auto industry to the housing crisis. And he doesn’t disappoint, packing the story full of flashy anecdotes which give more than any book I’ve read a sense of what it’s like to be in DC in a powerful position where your goal is not to get along with the actors controlling the status quo. The book paints the atmosphere in DC’s melange of agencies, bureaucracies, and Congressional halls as a mix between the drudgery and petty bureaucracy of Office Space and the world-cleaving tension of Too Big to Fail. As a Congressional staffer, I worked a bit with Barofsky’s office, so I’m going to give a slightly different perspective on the book than what you might have read elsewhere. You see, what very few have picked up on, even those who liked this book, is that it’s essentially a story about the importance of Congressional oversight in reigning in corruption, and the problems of our imperial Presidency.


Debt and Its Discontents: The Depressing World of Collections, Part One

This series is by Patrick Sahr, a Naked Capitalism reader and a former debt collector.

Admittedly, my perspective on the Great Recession is especially negative.  My excuse is that I’m from Buffalo, the nation’s third poorest city, where I’ve set fire to my career in the miserable business of debt collections.  I have no future business plan in place other than avoiding the grim, dull and brutal world of third party debt collection.    The whole experience has given me a seemingly incurable case of existential paralysis, where the future appears bleaker than the past and the past was pretty bleak.   From this vantage point, while shopping for careers, it appears the entire economy has adopted the characteristics of the collection agency: rude, short-sighted, greedy, corrupt and pathetic.

The clipped nature of customer relations, the constricting focus on short-term profits and the sarcastic vulturing of remaining wealth have long been features of the collections industry in good times and bad.  Now we see these features in the “race to the bottom” with cost-cutting regional airlines and in the arbitrary fees assigned to our cable and electric bills.  Is it only in a recession where these features of corporate behavior divine themselves in other industries?


What Is the Point of a National Political Convention?

We are in national political convention season, a strange time where fifteen thousand media, political insiders, and protesters descend on two different cities without any formal reason for doing so. Delegates aren’t going to choose anything of substance – the party platforms are irrelevant and the candidates are selected beforehand. There’s no news being made, […]


Julie Williams, The Lex Luthor of Banking Regulators, Retires

I just got a press release from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that its general counsel Julie Williams, an institution at the regulator for 19 years, is retiring. This is potentially a very big deal, because the OCC just underwent a leadership change from bank friendly John Walsh to a more measured Tom Curry, and the question was whether Curry would consolidate his leadership and move the regulator in a different direction. It looks like that’s what could be happening.


Obama’s Second Term Agenda: Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid

By Matt Stoller, a political analyst on Brand X with Russell Brand, and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at

This is probably the least important Presidential election since the 1950s. As an experienced political hand told me, the two candidates are speaking not to the voters, but to the big money. They hold the same views, pursue the same policies, and are backed by similar interests. Mitt Romney implemented Obamacare in Massachusetts, or Obama implemented Romneycare nationally. Both are pro-choice or anti-choice as political needs change, both tend to be hawkish on foreign policy, both favor tax cuts for businesses, and both believe deeply in a corrupt technocratic establishment.

So while the election lumbers on like the death rattles of the wounded animal known American democracy, no one on either side is asking what the plan is for the next term.


Matt Stoller: Democratic Leaders Again Whipping Against Audit of the Federal Reserve

Matt Stoller is a political analyst on Brand X with Russell Brand and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at

Yesterday, on the House floor, there was a furious debate over the prospect for HR 541, Ron Paul’s bill to audit the Federal Reserve. The Republicans are by and large supportive of this bill, seeking to hamstring the ability of the Federal Reserve to act in secret. Democratic members, were they left to their own devices, would be split. But on votes on bills like this, party leaders can choose to endorse a position, or not endorse a position. Some votes are what’s called “whipped”, and some aren’t. There’s an intricate system of whips and assistant whips and staff networks who encourage members to vote a certain way, so when the party takes a position on an issue, it has a big impact on the final vote count. This is a whipped vote, which means that this is one of those times where the Democratic leadership – Steny Hoyer, Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi – are putting their stamp on an issue. They have come out firmly for Fed secrecy.


Matt Stoller: Voting This Year Means Choosing the One Who Beats You

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and a political analyst on Brand X with Russell Brand.  You can follow him at

Every election cycle, Americans are greeted with a bevy of condescending lectures from well-heeled political elites about the importance of voting.  It’s your duty.  People died for right to vote.  And so forth.  This year, a far more compelling message about democracy is coming from miners in Spain, who, beset by austerity measures imposed by both political parties, are shooting at riot police with homemade rockets and slingshots.


The Source of Barack Obama’s Power to Trick Us Comes from Our Willingness to Be Tricked

Jokes reveal truths, which is why the best way to appreciate the real Obama, not the fabled character of hope and change, is how he tells jokes.  He’s good at, no, great at telling jokes.  He kills at comedic performances, and his sense of timing is magnificent.  Jokes, though, show how someone really sees the world, and the joke I’m thinking of is one he made during a speech in March 2009….


Yes, Barack Obama Thinks We’re Stupid (Immigration Edition)

Matt Stoller is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.  You can follow him on Twitter at

Recently, Barack Obama announced a laudable new policy position on immigration.  His administration will no longer deport undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children by their parents, as long as they don’t get in trouble with the law.  These are people who are essentially Americans without citizenship, and the risk of deportation to a country they don’t really know is a terrifying and unfair.  Aside from this serving the cause of justice and human decency, this is a long overdue move to reward a constituency group, happening in an election year.  It’s worth understanding how this policy change came about, so that one can get a sense of the incentives that animate the White House policy shop.