Nathan's Reviews > Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It

Republic, Lost by Lawrence Lessig
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Feb 03, 12

bookshelves: other-non-fiction
Read in February, 2012

I remember when, in 2007, Larry Lessig, trailblazer and articulate champion of the movement for balanced copyright, announced he was retiring from the copyfight and instead would begin to work on the topic of political corruption. I wasn't alone in feeling perplexed: that he was abandoning us, that he was tackling a boring and unfixable subject, and that he was basically going to waste the rest of his life tilting at academic windmills. It was like Jesus hadn't ascended to heaven, but instead had announced to his disciples over dinner that he was going to give up public life and work on his art, and left the restaurant.

Lessig's change of tack wasn't the non sequitur we all thought. In fact, it was highly sequitur: Lessig's key insight is that the reason copyright (and tax, and bureaucracy, and balanced budgets, and welfare, and healthcare, and ...) reform was stalled was that members of Congress are no longer being paid to do the right thing for the public, they're paid to do the right thing by monied interests. Congress's addiction to that money, used for election campaigns, is what perverts and distorts the political system.

In this book, Lessig lays out his case with ruthless and relentless vigor. He has example after example of distortion caused by this money, and traces with clinical precision the paths of money and influence, the feedback loops of incentives and career paths which ensure the public interest is the last thing anyone on Capital Hill thinks about. Best of all, he goes out of his way to identify the way Republicans are just as harmed by this as Liberals: that the dearly-held Republican causes of smaller government, fiscal responsibility, simpler tax codes, and so on are all being thwarted because such things are not in the interests of a Congress that takes money from people who benefit from larger wasteful government and its complex tax codes.

Listening to Lessig describe the problems (and when you read this book, you will read it in his voice for it is unarguably drawn from his powerful presentations) is like West Wing at its best: he believes in the Constitution, that Government doesn't have to be as obstructive and parasitic as it is today, people are good at heart, and this is the single issue whose resolution will restore the Republic and America's glory. I'm all for that. I believe America's origins were great, that the framers did a brilliant job of turning noble ambition into pragmatic execution, and that the current American implementation of democracy is a degraded and corrupted form of what the framers intended.

Where Lessig falls down, the point where you find yourself frowning, is when he turns to solutions. For, and make no mistake about it, the solution is the hard part. Problems with governance are notoriously difficult to fix: who watches the watchers, etc. He offers four paths out of the current venal tarpit of self-service and mutual gratification, but it's not immediately obvious just how any of them can be brought to reality. Give him credit, though, he's trying all of his solutions to see which work: his corruption project does not end with this book, it ends when America is reclaimed by the people.

Amazing book. Read it and love it.
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