Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A New Republic?

I recently read Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig's new and powerful book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It. He explains in clear and convincing terms how our representative democracy, our republic, no longer functions as such because congressmen are entirely beholden to special interests groups and rich people who give huge but legal donations. Congress, he argues, doesn't even bother to take up pressing issues like the environment, our massive debt, and health care because, essentially, Wall Street and other major corporations wouln't profit from changes to the current system. Instead, congress passes a very weak law (Dodd-Frank) that does very little to curb the powerful forces that got us into the current financial crisis.

Here's a brief video of Lessig speaking on the subject:

Lessig's proposed solutions are very interesting and compelling, even though he is skeptical about whether congress or the people will have the courage to carry them out. The first solution he mentions briefly is that all political donations should be anonymous. Lessig doesn't agree with this approach partly because he thinks people will stop donating. I like the idea, though. I mean, what better way to neuter powerful lobbying forces than to make it impossible for them to directly contribute to politician who help make laws favorable to the businesses and individual who profit from them? He spends much more time on his other solution: No contribution can be over $100. He then spends time talking about different strategies to make this law.

1. Congress should pass the law. But he is very skeptical that this will happen. Why would congress enact a law that changes the entire political system as it operates today? It's currently advantageous for politicians, who often only work in politics for a few years before becoming very wealthy lobbyists.
2. Several "supercandidates" should run in several jurisdictions across the country and quite as soon as real campaign finance laws were passed.
3. The president could force the issue and not allow anything else to happen until meaningful laws were passed.
4. This one is the most interesting: A constitutional convention could be called. Since congress won't do it, the people should.

A fascinating read!

Here's a link to a website that shines a light on the money in D.C.

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