10 Updates

Pay Close Attention To the Greatest Radical At Work In America Today

May 19 2014, 7:41am CDT | by

Lawrence Lessig may be the greatest radical at work in America today.  Lessig, a polymath, professor at Harvard Law School, is no ivory tower type.  He is a radical — someone who strikes at the root...

Filed under: news

 
 
 

10 weeks ago

Pay Close Attention To the Greatest Radical At Work In America Today

May 19 2014, 7:41am CDT | by

Lawrence Lessig may be the greatest radical at work in America today.  Lessig, a polymath, professor at Harvard Law School, is no ivory tower type.  He is a radical — someone who strikes at the root of things — in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson.  His latest book The USA is Lesterland breathes intelligent, courageous-to-the-point-of-heroic, radicalism from every pore.  The USA is Lesterland is the most important political book of 2014.

Lessig’s core proposition:

… I offer a simple way to understand the nature of the corruption that is the United States Congress today.  I also sketch out a strategy to fix it.  That corruption isn’t illegal corruption.  It’s not the bad behavior of bad souls.  It is instead the ordinary behavior of good souls within a corrupted system.  It’s legal corruption, and it has infected and poisoned our government.

Like a magnet beside a compass, or molasses in a gearbox, or a wheel not aligned: This is a system of influence that corrupts the government of our Republic.  And it is a bi-partisan, equal opportunity corruption.  It blocks the Left.  It blocks the Right.  It blocks both in the sense that it makes it harder (maybe impossible) for either side to get the principled reform that each side would push.

Lessig creates a sort of fairy tale to make his point simple and compelling.  Rather than Alice in Wonderland we get Lessig in Lesterland with Lessig casting himself more Cheshire Cat than Alice.  However, in light of the gravity of the problem, this is more epic David and Goliath than fairy tale.

“Once upon a time,” his book opens, “there was a place called ‘Lesterland.’” He uses, as a literary device, the fact that 150,000 Americans are named Lester.  And that 150,000 people fund Congressional elections.

He develops a winsome extended metaphor.  What if candidates had to gain the support of many, preferably a majority, of the 150,000 Lesters … before the rest of us got to vote? That would give “the Lesters” disproportionate influence on elections.

Lessig then notes that candidates do have to raise enough money, to run, from 150,000 self-selected campaign contributors.  Lessig does not present this as an attack on the rich or on capitalism.  It is an attack on a campaign financing system that gives disproportionate influence to around a quarter of one percent of the electorate (themselves a minute fraction of “the rich,” few of whom make political contributions).

Lessig’s demand for a system that creates, as a non-coercive option, without muzzling big donors, a bigger presence for rank-and-file voters is consistent with arguments that this right-wing columnist elsewhere has made about the crucial vitality of citizen engagement.  Since about twice as many Americans consistently describe ourselves as conservative than we do liberal it is slightly indecipherable that so many conservatives are diffident about Lessig’s proposition.

Restoring “consent of the governed” is not about Right versus Left.  It is about setting up a system to restore control of Congress to us outsiders, the people, over the insiders, the special interests, by creating an incentive for us to contribute and an incentive for candidates to take our contributions in preference to those of the special interests.  And most Congressional campaign donors are special interests — if only because they are victims of a Congressional extortion racket.

Lessig, a man of the Left, is not propounding a system to privilege Progressives (although some of his Progressive admirers are appropriating, and corrupting, his work to their own ends). He offers 200-proof pure constitutional populism.  His proposition is as consonant with Conservative principles as it is with Progressive ones.

He does not advocate violence against the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech by proposing limits on independent expenditures.  As much as he detests Citizens United, and the power of SuperPACs, he recognizes the terrible danger posed by government censorship of political speech: “If I thought that the only way to end the corruption of our government was to risk this type of censorship, I’d think long and hard about whether to risk it.”

Lessig is eloquent about how the current financing system hurts the Right at least as much as it does the Left.

The Right wants a smaller federal government.  But the current system for funding elections only gives the Congress an interest in keeping a large and invasive government.

For example, when Al Gore was Vice President, his team had an idea for deregulating a significant portion of the telecommunications industry.  They took the idea to Capitol Hill.  Capitol Hill wasn’t impressed.  “Hell no,” was the response described to me.  “If we deregulate these guys how are we going to raise money from them?”

The need to raise money thus tilts Congress members the preserving the extortion-like power that only a regulator (or thug) can leverage.



Or think of the Right’s desire for a simpler tax system — Herman Cain’s call for a “9-9-9 plan,” for example, or Rick Perry’s call for a 20 percent flat tax./>/>

The motivation here is not hard to understand. … So … the existing system for funding campaigns tilts Congress away from a simpler tax system — in part because complexity makes it easier for them to raise money.

What, then, is Lessig’s solution?

How could we end this corruption and make it possible for We the People to move on to the issues that we must address sensibly?

The analytics are not hard.

-IF-

The problem is a system that forces candidates to:

(a)         spend too much time raising money from

(b)         too small a slice of America (aka, “the Funders”),

-THEN-

The solution is a system that

(a)         demands less time raising money, and raises its money from

(b)         a wider slice of America (aka, “the People”).

This is not Leninism.  This is constitutional populism.

Lessig lays out the problem, his strategy, and his proposed tactics in The USA is Lesterland , following a TED talk that has drawn well over a million views, and now is coupled with a new million dollar SuperPAC, MayOne.US, designed, without irony, to end the disproportionate influence of all SuperPACs.

Most politics is engaged with maintaining the status quo or making tiny incremental changes.  Lessig proposes a radical change.

As Jefferson famously wrote in America’s fundamental mission statement, the Declaration of Independence , “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Lessig thus bears a burden of proof.

Are our current evils sufferable?

The political status quo really is bad.  How bad?

America is well into its fourth decade of wage stagnation.  Many of the elements of our cost of living are inexorably rising.  The real price of gas at the pump has approximately tripled from 10 years ago.  Our wages have been flat.

Stagnation really began when President Nixon took America off the Bretton Woods international gold-exchange standard.  Promptly thereafter median family income, which had been rising smartly, flat-lined .  Meanwhile the “rich get richer” went into overdrive.  This writer has called our stagnation the “The Little Dark Age.”

Democrats call this predicament “income inequality.”  Republicans call this “inequitable prosperity.”  Or should.

We workers are struggling to make ends meet.  40 years is a long time.  Our officials are not listening or, when listening, are offering trivial, often bad, solutions.  Could this be a symptom, as Lessig declares, of a corrupt Congressional election financing system that is to blame for distracting our elected Representatives?

Will The USA is Lesterland succeed in rousing America?  Will its proposed solution survive robust public debate?/>/>

Will Lessig and his allies develop more credible tactics than peer-to-peer conversations; than the underpowered rootstrikers.org; than calling upon nonprofit groups to tithe into his cause; than praying for a wave of non-politician politicians; than romantically hoping for a “Regent” presidential candidate to run … and, if elected, resign as soon as this is enacted?  Or even than a SuperPAC to take out those who do not subscribe to his agenda….

Lessig gets populism beautifully… but, in this old politico’s view, doesn’t get politicians or politics.  Quixotic mechanisms, deriving from a certain blindness to the human element of politics, weaken prospects for achieving a noble goal.  To succeed, Lessig, as David, needs five far smoother stones than these….

Will Lessig catch lightning in a bottle?  Will he succeed in birthing a financing system for Congressional elections that demands less time raising money, and raises its money from a wider slice of America?  If so, will it bring about the transformation in government responsiveness he promises?

As former Federal Reserve Governor Henry Wallich once said, “Experience is the name we give to our past mistakes, reform that which we give to future ones.” Wikipedia notes that the first PAC was created by the CIO in response to the Taft-Hartley Act prohibiting campaign contributions by labor unions. PACs really took off in response to amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act restricting the amount of money that could be given directly to a Congressional campaign.

That’s neither a snarky aside nor counsel of despair. This could succeed.

Is this good code? The Devil, Lessig, is in the details.

Meanwhile … The USA is Lesterland belongs at the center of our immediate and future politics.  It belongs in your mind.

Welcome to Lesterland.  Welcome to the most radical project in America today.

 
Update
10

7 weeks ago

RM47mil KWSG contributions still unclaimed

Jun 9 2014 7:54am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: About RM47 million of contributions in the Teachers Provident Fund (KWSG) still remain unclaimed, the Dewan Rakyat wa ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
9

7 weeks ago

Gold shop lost almost RM1mil

Jun 9 2014 3:50am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KANGAR: A gold shop owner lost almost RM1 million after after the safe on in his shop was broken into by ro ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
8

7 weeks ago

Motion to debate MAS losses in Dewan Rakyat rejected

Jun 9 2014 3:39am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: AN emergency motion to debate the losses incurred by Malaysia Airlines last year, amounting to RM1.2 billion was rejected ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
7

7 weeks ago

MH370 Tragedy: Hisham: RM27.6 mil spent on 1st phase of SAR

Jun 9 2014 2:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia spent some RM27.6 million in its first phase of the search operations for missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370, said Acting Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussei ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
6

7 weeks ago

9.1m litres of diesel seized in a month

Jun 8 2014 1:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism ministry has seized some 9.1 million litres of diesel and property worth RM58 million since mounting ‘Operasi Diesel Selatan’ in the southern sta ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
5

7 weeks ago

Girl, 9, awarded RM2.78m compensation for medical negligence

Jun 6 2014 4:56am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: A nine-year-old girl who suffered brain damage during her birth at a government hospital was awarded over RM2.78 mill ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
4

7 weeks ago

Malaysia's total trade in April up 12pc

Jun 5 2014 11:52pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's total trade in April 2014 rose by 12 per cent from a year ago to RM123.86 billion due to growing trading activities, International Trade and Industry M ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
3

7 weeks ago

Works Ministry to spend RM20m for upgrading works at 50 accident black spots

Jun 4 2014 11:35pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

JOHOR BARU: The Works Ministry will implement upgrading works at 50 accident prone locations in the country that have been identified this year invol ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
2

7 weeks ago

Najib launches loan scheme for Ramadan traders

Jun 4 2014 10:24pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today launches RM45 million Ramadan Baz ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
1

7 weeks ago

Residents bring up objection against Kidex to Suhakam

Jun 4 2014 4:49am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: A group of 20 Petaling Jaya residents held a meeting with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) over their objection against the proposed RM2.2 billion Ki ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Our Milky Way much smaller than previously thought
London, July 30 (IANS) The Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our solar system, is way smaller than astronomers previously thought, says a study.
 
 
Be aware of calories from soft drinks during meals
London, July 30 (IANS) Did you ever count calories from the soft drink you usually order along with the dinner? Now is the time to factor those in.
 
 
Simple blood test may even predict suicide
Washington, July 30 (IANS) A simple blood test can soon reliably predict a person's risk of attempting suicide, significant research reveals.
 
 
Young US troops facing more sexual problems?
Washington, July 30 (IANS) According to an alarming study, young troops in the US suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) at nearly three times the rate of civilians their own age.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Our Milky Way much smaller than previously thought
London, July 30 (IANS) The Milky Way, the galaxy that contains our solar system, is way smaller than astronomers previously thought, says a study. It is approximately half the weight of a neighbouring galaxy - known...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Be aware of calories from soft drinks during meals
London, July 30 (IANS) Did you ever count calories from the soft drink you usually order along with the dinner? Now is the time to factor those in. New research indicates that meals that include a calorific drink are...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Apple Drops Their Appeal of Samsung Verdict
After the ruling in Apple’s favor by a jury in the patent infringement case with Samsung, the company was seeking a permanent injunction on a number of Samsung’s devices. The goal was to ban sale of Samsung products...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Apple’s Sapphire Glass Supply Getting A Boost
Ever since the announcement that Apple was going to move away from Gorilla Glass came out, people have been wondering about the new Sapphire Glass screens. They have certainly proved indestructible, but the production...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Simple blood test may even predict suicide
Washington, July 30 (IANS) A simple blood test can soon reliably predict a person's risk of attempting suicide, significant research reveals. This may be possible because researchers at Johns Hopkins University have...
Read more on Business Balla
 
Are Samsung’s Sales In Trouble?
The battle between Samsung and Apple has been a fiercely fought one both in the courtroom and in the marketplace. Apple feels that Samsung has used their innovations to create a series of phones that are similar, but...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Kate Moss boards flight 'drunk' without ticket
Kate Moss allegedly ''blagged'' her way onto a flight from Turkey to London without a ticket on Monday (07.28.14). The supermodel, 40, reportedly turned up at Bodrum Airport intoxicated following a detox vacation at the...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Liam Neeson still struggles with wife's death
Liam Neeson still hasn't come to terms with his wife's death five years ago. The 'Taken' star was left heartbroken when he switched off Natasha Richardson's life support in 2009 following a tragic ski accident and he...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
20 killed in Israeli shelling of Gaza shelter
Gaza, July 30 (IANS) At least 20 Palestinians were killed and dozens injured Wednesday when Israeli artillery hit a school used as a shelter by displaced people in Jabaliya town of Gaza Strip, medics said. Ashraf al-...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Young US troops facing more sexual problems?
Washington, July 30 (IANS) According to an alarming study, young troops in the US suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) at nearly three times the rate of civilians their own age. According to the findings, troops who...
Read more on Business Balla