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.