Harwood: Do you think it's fair to say that, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Washington overreacted?
Cordray: What I would say is that there clearly was not enough done before the crisis. And if you look at the mortgage market, in particular, the lending became completely irresponsible. As long as they could just sell 'em off to Wall Street, it was all OK. That blew up the economy. So, do we want to go back to that? Is that where we want to be? I don't think so. Does the pendulum swing, and swing sometimes too far? Those are things that are legitimate to talk about and people should talk about that.
Harwood: The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial, said your agency is lawless. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is an independent-minded senator, refers to you as King Richard. People say, "He's a dictator." What do you say?
Cordray: First of all, I think it's completely ill-founded. There's never specifics in those kinds of claims. But what I would say is, accountability is really at the heart of this agency. We're all about holding financial companies, large financial companies, accountable for complying with the law and treating people fairly.
Harwood: Do you not accept that you need to be accountable to someone in government who is elected by people?
Cordray: Sure. We are accountable. I have to be accountable to Congress; I have to testify in front of them four times a year. I'm accountable to the courts; they oversee what we do. And if we get something wrong, we fix it, just like everybody else does.
Harwood: Doesn't accountability mean that somebody in government above you can fire you or change your budget?
Cordray: Well, what they can do is replace you from time to time. That's the way the independent agencies work. Nobody's talking about firing Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve. Nobody's talking about firing other independent agency heads. That's the principle of our government.
Harwood: Part of choices and freedom is people have different options. And so when you say, "No, Payday Lender, you can't make that kind of loan" is a net result of that, is that there are some people who are not going to get things that they want and could use at that moment?
Cordray: What I would say is what we need to do is do the research, look at the data, and understand how these markets work. And there are products in these markets that are in need of reform.
Harwood: And when people say that's what both individual liberty and free enterprise entails, you say what?
Cordray: Common-sense rules of the road that everybody has to abide by can be helpful in a marketplace. If you're driving down the road, you don't simply say, 'Anybody can go anywhere they want. We can move over to the left side if we feel like it today, and we can — we can pass on the berm if we want.'