Mehrsa Baradaran: Translator of dollars and sense

Share via
Mehrsa Baradaran
Mehrsa Baradaran, photographed at the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Oct. 6.

Law professor Mehrsa Baradaran has spent her career as a translator — literally and figuratively.

“If I have a skill, it is that I can translate,” Baradaran said. “I speak Spanish. I speak Farsi. I speak financial regulation.”

It’s Baradaran’s work on the latter, with her “write to everyone” approach and a deep respect for history, that has won her fans in Washington and Hollywood.


Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. L.A. Influential brings you the moguls, politicians, artists and others telling the story of a city constantly in flux.

Her first book, “How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy,” advocates for turning the U.S. postal system back into the low-cost banking network it was in the early 1900s. The idea was embraced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg during the 2020 presidential race.

Her second book, “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” inspired streaming giant Netflix to allocate 2% of its cash holdings to financial institutions that support Black communities in the United States.

Baradaran, 46, served on President Biden’s transition team, shepherding the direction for the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve. In 2021, progressive groups pushed for Baradaran to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in a contentious nomination process for the powerful banking oversight position. An acting comptroller remains in the position.

‘I speak Spanish. I speak Farsi. I speak financial regulation.’

— Mehrsa Baradaran

Baradaran’s focus on inequality and poverty comes partly from life experience. At 8, Baradaran was tasked with translating America to her parents after they fled war-torn Iran for Southern California in 1986. Baradaran’s father secured a visa through a UCLA internship, allowing the family to leave.

“L.A. was America for me,” Baradaran said. “It was heaven compared to Iran.”

The transition was not without its hiccups. Baradaran recalled how she and her younger sister were mistakenly placed into a Spanish-speaking classroom at their elementary school in Van Nuys because neither initially spoke English.

Mehrsa Baradaran

Her time on Wall Street during the Great Recession gave her an insider’s view into a system she says has long been shaped by systemic racism and perpetuated harmful myths around poverty.

She recently published a third book, “The Quiet Coup: Neoliberalism and the Looting of America,” that she said builds on the themes of her earlier work and chronicles the rise of the far right.

In 2019, Baradaran returned to Southern California to be close to her retired parents. She took a professorship at UC Irvine, joining the same university system that ushered in her family’s life in America.