Lawrence Lessig and Fighting Corruption

by on December 15, 2008 · 17 comments

I’ve been reading some of Larry Lessig’s thoughts on corruption and I’ve drafted a short reaction at OpenMarket.org.

In short, I think that Lessig’s right to say that Washington is corrupt, he’s right that money has an incredible power to corrupt the system, but I think he’s wrong to say that we ought to focus on money.

Why?  Because there are other forms of influence that special interests can use to push lawmakers toward the policies they would prefer.  Eliminating money from politics is likely an impossible goal but would also do little to stop corruption.  Taking away power from government and returning it to individuals seems to me to be the only way we can truly fight corruption.  I articulate this all more fully in the post.

  • MikeRT

    Lessig needs to face up to the fact that the reason the money is there is because the power is there. If legislators and regulators were impotent to make or break vested interests, there would be no incentive to waive cash around in front of their faces in exchange for favorable outcomes. There really isn't much more to it than that.

  • Sneeje

    This is akin to saying, “It's too hard, let's not try.” Rather than throwing grenades, how about we offer constructive advice? Lessig is doing something few others are… he is tackling corruption with passion and dedication. We all know that the problem is complex and results from far more than just money, but it sounds like this approach is worth a try. Perhaps it will help parse the problem and highlight other effective approaches.

    I'm always bullish on trying new ideas, particularly when those involved are hyper-sensitive to unintended consequences. Compare that to the status quo (government), where new ideas are rarely tried and when they are, little thought is given to the consequences that result.

  • Jim Harper

    Cord is not saying, “It's too hard, let's not try.” He's saying, “Money is only a symptom of a power problem.”

    You can waste a lot of time and energy on controlling money in politics, but you will only cure for the problem when you remove power from Washington.

    Lessig should be campaigning for federalism.

  • Jim Harper

    (Errrr, “cure the problem”)

    (P.S. Disqus sucks.)

  • Sneeje

    Ok, but I would hope that Cord realizes that Lessig understands that. I guess I would more greatly respect, “well, I don't agree that this is the right approach, but since you are going to try this, here's what I think would help.”

    To me, this is the worst kind of intellectualism. Someone begins to act, rather than discuss, and those who are smart enough to help simply attack the premise or the approach, to what end? to show they're smarter? Because they feel lessened by the actions?

    I suppose it isn't fair to ascribe motives, but to be address your main rebuttal.. both Lessig's and Cord's opinions are unproven theories at this point so you could waste a lot of time tackling either of them. The difference is that Lessig has made a significant life commitment to pursue the truths behind his thinking.

  • Jim Harper

    If Lessig understood that his effort was fundamentally misdirected, as Cord argues (and I agree), he would not pursue it. So I don't think he understands it.

    Cord pays Lessig lots of respect in his post, but I don't think one is obligated to “honor the effort” – much less join in – simply because it is effort. Would it have helped Don Quixote to do a better job of tilting at windmills?

    Cord is making efforts to advance the public policies he prefers. Is he owed the same help from Lessig? I don't see how that would be possible.

    Lessig is a public intellectual advocating his views. Cord Blomquist is a public intellectual advocating his views. Lessig is not “doing” while Cord sits back intellectualizing. They're both doing the same intellectualizing, and they're in disagreement.

    In case you weren't aware of it, Cord is a think-tanker. He works for less pay than he has to because of his vision for the country. He, too, has made a significant life commitment to what he believes in. Larry Lessig and Cord Blomquist both deserve our respect and thanks – but one does not owe the other help. Each should continue to press for what they believe in.

  • Sneeje

    I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on the uproven assertion that Lessig is misdirected and the corollary that his approach will do nothing to address corruption.

    My point about Lessig's understanding was that I bet he understands money isn't the only part of the problem. Where I disagree with Cord et al is that addressing only it will meet with complete failure. I believe, and there is no way to prove otherwise without trying (thus my issue with pure intellectualism), that the solution to corruption will come from multiple fronts, Lessig's, perhaps Cords, and others.

    I will grant you the life-commitment point.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Cord has it exactly right when he says “if we can’t eliminate special interest influence over the use of government power, what should we do? Easy: limit that government power as much as possible.” Robert Samuelson makes that exact same point today in his Washington Post column, “An Obama Gift for K Street.” In that essay, Samuelson channels Cord in noting:

    The only way to eliminate lobbying and special interests is to eliminate government. The more powerful government becomes, the more lobbying there will be. So, paradoxically, Obama's ambitions for more expansive government will promote special pleading. You need only watch the response to the expected “economic stimulus” plan — totaling perhaps $700 billion — to verify this eternal truth. “A Lobbying Frenzy for Federal Funds,” read the headline of one Post story.

    But don't waste your breath waiting for the Obama-ites to reverse course. The Dems will fall right in line with the spendaholics in the Republican party who think you can make everyone happy by showering special interests with pork and favors. The more things “change” the more things stay the same.

  • Jardinero1

    I think Prof . Lessig has it right. There is this noble retinue out there ready to rule over us verily, fairly, honestly, benevolently and accountably. They just never get a shot at it because the retarded voters keep electing the same greedy bloodsuckers over and over again because the greedy bloodsuckers are the only ones who can get their hands on that dirty money.

  • Jim Harper

    Jardinero1, your comment is perfect: It's either 100% genuine or 100% ironic, and I can't tell which.

  • http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2007/09/the_price_of_a.html Frank

    I think capture is a big problem. But the answer is not to simply give up on government, but to develop the types of political arrangements that expose, shame, and punish capture–such as robust campaign finance regulation. If you oppose strict limits in that sphere, it takes a lot of chutzpah to then complain about the government being “captured.” (Chutzpah defined: a guy who kills his mother and father and then pleads for the court's mercy because he's an orphan.)

    Consider also the lengths to which the logic of libertarianism takes you:

    http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2007

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    P.P.S. Jim Harper sucks.

  • Jardinero1

    What kind of “capture” do you propose to punish? Captured by religion. Captured by prejudice. Captured by slavish devotion to campaign finance regulation. That's the kind of capture I worry about. Given a choice between the candidate “captured” by an idea and the simple shill beholden to money; I will take the shill any day of the week.

    That's why I am so reassured by President-elect Obama… he was willing to sacrifice his principles and forego matching funds, in spite of his long standing support for campaign finance reform.

  • Jardinero1

    What kind of “capture” do you propose to punish? Captured by religion. Captured by prejudice. Captured by slavish devotion to campaign finance regulation. That's the kind of capture I worry about. Given a choice between the candidate “captured” by an idea and the simple shill beholden to money; I will take the shill any day of the week.

    That's why I am so reassured by President-elect Obama… he was willing to sacrifice his principles and forego matching funds, in spite of his long standing support for campaign finance reform.

  • Jardinero1

    What kind of “capture” do you propose to punish? Captured by religion. Captured by prejudice. Captured by slavish devotion to campaign finance regulation. That's the kind of capture I worry about. Given a choice between the candidate “captured” by an idea and the simple shill beholden to money; I will take the shill any day of the week.

    That's why I am so reassured by President-elect Obama… he was willing to sacrifice his principles and forego matching funds, in spite of his long standing support for campaign finance reform.

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