The XX Factor

My Heroine, Brooksley Born

The Washington Post yesterday had a profile of a now-retired regulator, Brooksley Born, 68, that’s a must-read. If the world’s smartest men had listened to her-instead of dismissing her as a woman in over her head-we might be living in a very different world, and the international financial crisis could have been avoided. While head of the obscure Commodities Futures Trading Commission in the late 1990s, Born foresaw that the unregulated, metastasizing growth of financial derivatives was a disaster in the making-this New York Times article has some great details. But she was put down by Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, and Larry Summers, and lost the fight. As the Post profile shows, Born has been a quiet fighter her whole life. Number one in her class at Stanford Law, she was refused a Supreme Court clerkship because, Potter Stewart told her, he just couldn’t see having a woman clerk. So she found a clerkship elsewhere, managed to make partner at a prestigious Washington law firm while working part-time so she could be with her kids, and generally making her determined way past the endless barriers to her advancement. Her confrontations with Greenspan are stunning, not the least for exposing the shocking stupidity of some of the supposedly world’s-best financial minds. Born, now busily content in retirement, is a model for a life well-lived. May she enter the history books.