Mallory E. SoRelle

Jul 19, 2021

Democracy Declined

The Failed Politics of Consumer Financial Protection

University of Chicago Press 2020

Americans rely on credit to provide for their food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and other daily necessities and the 2008 financial crisis demonstrated how they relied on private financial institutions that encouraged risky lending practices. Yet federal policy makers did little to change their approach to curbing risky lending practices and there was little political response from consumers or consumer groups. How can political scientists explain the behavior of government actors, interest groups, or borrowers? 

In Democracy Declined: The Failed Politics of Consumer Financial Protection (U Chicago Press, 2020), Dr. SoRelle insists that the expansion of consumer financing -- in terms of access and economic significance -- is fundamentally a political issue with serious political and economic consequences. She offers a policy-centered explanation sensitive to what she calls regulatory feedback effects that shape the behavior of bureaucrats, consumer advocates, and ordinary Americans. Individuals did not fail – they responded to systemic incentives and goals. SoRelle explains how angry borrowers' experiences with nearly invisible government policies teach them to focus their attention primarily on banks and lenders instead of demanding that lawmakers address predatory behavior. As a result, advocacy groups have been mostly unsuccessful in mobilizing borrowers in support of stronger consumer financial protections. The absence of safeguards on consumer financing is particularly dangerous because the consequences extend well beyond harm to individuals--they threaten the stability of entire economies. In addition to explaining the political dynamics of failure, SoRelle identifies possible remedies. This multi-method scholarship contributes to our understanding of policy feedback in an important and timely case study.

Dr. Mallory E. SoRelle is an assistant professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. Her research interrogates how public policies are produced by, and how they reproduce, socioeconomic and political inequality in the United States. She has worked in both electoral politics and consumer advocacy. The podcast drops the week of the 10th anniversary of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Susan Liebell is an associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Why Diehard Originalists Aren’t Really Originalists appeared in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage andSensitive Places: Originalism, Gender, and the Myth Self-Defense in District of Columbia v. Hellercan be found in July 2021’s Polity. Email her comments at or tweet to @SusanLiebell.

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