Brave Thinkers

Illustration by Quickhoney

Name: Sheila C. Bair
Job: Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Why she’s brave: She spent years sounding the alarm about lending standards. Now she’s standing up for beleaguered homeowners.
Quote: “I think we just need to say what we've always said, that it’s going to take time to work through these credit losses, but we'll get out of this.”


For years, Bair was one of the only voices in Washington warning about the dangers posed to the economy by deteriorating lending standards. The Kansas Republican has overseen the (more or less) orderly dissolution of more than 100 failed commercial banks since her appointment in 2006. As more banks failed and the public panicked, Bair persuaded Congress to boost the FDIC’s borrowing authority and increased the amount of private deposits the government insures to $250,000 per account. She got banks to pay more into the FDIC insurance fund, oversaw a program to insure their debts, and helped develop the Public-Private Investment Program to buy up mortgage-backed securities. She also pushed to empower a council of top regulators to oversee “too big to fail” institutions and prevent them from threatening the stability of the financial system. Bair has made mistakes—like bungling the Wachovia takeover. But since the collapse, she has stood up in Washington for beleaguered homeowners and persistently confronted the influence that the big Wall Street banks wield. “If anything is to be learned from this financial crisis, it is that market discipline must be more than a philosophy to ward off appropriate regulation during good times,” Bair told Congress in July. “It must be enforced during difficult times.”

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