Lawrence Lessig at the Kellogg School of Management

This week I was delighted to have the opportunity to hear Lawrence Lessig – all-round free culture badass – speak at Kellogg, and was not disappointed.

Lawrence has shifted his focus away from IP law and policy, and towards fixing broken government. This was, I admit, a slight disappointment – it makes sense to try and attack the root cause of an issue, but Lessig may be biting off more than he can chew.

His talk was a master class in presentation, and he presents a series of very well constructed arguments, but always with a diplomacy that suggests he is already well ingrained in the political process.

The presentation he gave was a longer version of this one:

Still – I like plain logic, so here’s a breakdown of his argument. This is a travesty actually – the presentation was so well done that this is like reading the ingredients on a wedding cake.

Note: I’m afraid that I missed some of the details here, so apologies for the crappy blankets statements like “x has doubled”.

The Basic Problem

Lessig’s basic argument – money creates mistrust, so campaign contributions are a dumb idea. Money doesn’t make people liars, but it makes people suspicious of their motives. Examples:

  • Big pharma companies donating to the AHA to pass Activase. Apparently, even the free pens and coffee mugs change prescribing behaviour.
  • Hilary Clinton voting down “that awful bill” about personal bankruptcy, getting campaign contributions from credit card companies and then switching her vote next time around
  • Sugar industry lobbyists against the WHO’s recommendation of 10% maximum sugar intake
  • A note that no peer reviewed journals disagreed with Al Gore’s basic points on global warming while 53% of the popular media articles in the same time period disagreed
  • A response to Al Gore’s proposed internet telecoms deregulation – “How are we going to raise money from this if we deregulate?”

Then, some notes on the current situation:

  • The number of lobbyists has doubled, and the amount they get paid has doubled – therefore their influence must be rising
  • Representatives spend between 30% and 70% of their time currently raising money

… with the basic problem being that noone has any interest in stopping this problem.

There were a few notes on the history of these sorts of problems, with the point being that in Lessig’s opinion, we have a more moral government than ever before, so we should be more disposed to solve these problems now than ever before.

The Proposed Solution

… is this: have government representatives get money only from private citizen donations, with additional set funding from the treasury once a campaign has reached a certain size.

The main site for this proposal is here. If you’re a politically active American and you like these ideas, it’s worth a peek.

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