- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Twelve; Revised edition (October 20, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1455537012
- ISBN-13: 978-1455537013
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 183 customer reviews
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Republic, Lost: Version 2.0 Hardcover – October 20, 2015
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About the Author
Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Prior to rejoining the Harvard faculty, Lessig was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school's Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.
Lessig serves on the Board of Creative Commons, MapLight, Brave New Film Foundation, The American Academy, Berlin, AXA Research Fund and iCommons.org, and on the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation. He is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Association, and has received numerous awards, including the Free Software Foundation's Freedom Award, Fastcase 50 Award and being named one of Scientific American's Top 50 Visionaries.
Lessig holds a BA in economics and a BS in management from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in philosophy from Cambridge, and a JD from Yale.
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That's been demonstrated since he wrote the book, by the failures of his Mayday PAC in 2014 and his exceptionally brief candidacy for the Democratic nomination for the 2016 presidential race. Arguably, the closest that reforms regarding money in politics have ever come was the 2012 election. John McCain (with a stronger pedigree on campaign finance reform than most) agreed to limit himself to public funding in the general election and urged President Obama to follow his pledge to do the same. And President Obama declined to do so, judging accurately that (1) he could raise more money privately than by accepting the limits of public funding; and (2) that he would not be punished by voters for breaking his pledge. It is ever thus. Tribal loyalty outweighs commitments to campaign finance reform. Winning is everything.
Lessig's answer to the improbability, of course, is that for something so important, we have to try anyway. But that argument does not move most voters to push for procedural reforms, as opposed to substantive policies.
That the book comes across as impractical is not necessarily a reason to not read it. Indeed, most advocates of important reforms face the same type of problem. They have an appealing vision of the future but little practical understanding of how to really achieve it. It reminds one of Robert Caro's biography of LBJ. Many people had visions of creating a better society. But someone who understood politics and how to use political power was essential in passing some of those measures. Whatever else you think about LBJ, it is difficult to visualize someone else achieving what he did, for better or for worse. Certainly not an "ivory tower academic."
Again, that's not necessarily a reason to not read the book. A more important limitation, to me, was the implication that this is the key issue that - once solved - will allow us to solve all our other problems. I wasn't persuaded. Lessig implies that once we align our representatives with the interests of the "People alone," the remaining problems to be solved are ones of substantive policy. But there are still procedural impediments, which may be as important as campaign finance reform.
Three that come to mind are intensity of desire and the limitations of representative democracy, neither of which Lessig pays much attention to. The Madisonian ideal of one faction checking another faction works poorly with many issues because of a mis-match of intensity of desire. If, for example, you want to impose much stronger gun control laws, there's probably a majority of "the People" who would be in favor. But for most of them, it's likely not even in their list of top ten reasons to vote for a particular candidate. While for many who oppose such stronger gun control laws, it *is* one of the most important factors in voting for a particular candidate. The same can be said about a host of other issues (including campaign finance reform); the proponents of the status quo outweigh the proponents of change not by their numbers but by the intensity of their desire. And that applies not only to the willingness to donate funds but also to the willingness to vote for a candidate. Politicians really like campaign cash, but if you eliminate those concerns, they still really need votes.
Representative democracy doesn't work very well any more. Partly it's because for many problems, it's hard to come up with solutions that will really work - which is part of why Congress tends to kick the can down the road or announce (with fanfares) a simple "solution" that is "neat, plausible and wrong@ (Mencken). But the bigger problem is that there are too few politicians willing to pursue an unpopular course that is right. And there are plenty of solutions that the People will favor that will make things worse. Lessig mentions that the issue that came closest to resulting in a constitutional convention was the balanced budget amendment, which most policy wonks consider exceptionally dangerous. (Not trying to pick on Republicans - there are a lot of very popular solutions on the left that would be destructive as well.) If you eliminate the distortion of campaign funds, you're still left with the distortions (of good policy) inherent in aligning politicians with the desires (as opposed to the best interests) of the People. I would guess that I'm more pessimistic or cynical than Lessig in this respect.
In summary, it's a well-written book and advocacy. But the diagnosis is preaching to the choir. And the solutions are "pie in the sky" fanciful. I wish that weren't the case.
By; Lawrence Lessig
This book was originally published in 2011. This revised 2015 edition added the “Citizen’s United” issue which has dramatically increased the funds pouring into political campaigns which has distorted the process so dramatically that the idea of a government of, by and for the people no longer exists. The money from the few means that Congress ignores the will of the people and provides
benefits for the few. This money process goes both ways, sometimes from the lobbyists to Congress and other times a demand from Congress. Both should be illegal, in my thinking and punishable by fines and jail time. I added that last sentence. It of course is off the table.
On page 102 he states the following, “The lobbying industry has exploded over the past 25 years. In 1971… there were just 175 firms with registered lobbyists. Eleven years later, there were almost 2,500. In 2009, there were 13,700 registered lobbyists. They spent more than $3.5 billion-twice the amount spent in 2002.
On page 107 he points out how Congress and their staff have come to look at political service like being on a sport farm team, being willing to work for less money while aiming for the payoff on K Street after leaving office. They can expect to receive exorbitant incomes for the influence they can have on current members and staff. Between 1998 and 2004, more than 50 percent of Senators and 42 percent of House members made that career transition. As of June 2011, 195 former members of Congress were registered lobbyists.
Chapter 9, I found of particular interest. It concerns the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. He came in with his party in the majority of the House and Senate. People were ecstatic about the changes he promised i.e., health care for all, global warming, attack Wall Street and take on corruption. While it is true the Republicans were opposed to nearly everything he proposed, it is equally true that for the first two years he did not need their support. The author was a colleague of Obama at the University of Chicago and supported him in his political journey. Obama said all the right things. He convinced me (Jack Walters) to vote for him. After his election I actually wrote to him a number of times with my thoughts on how he could accomplish his goals. I soon realized that my effort was in vain. Rather than attack the system, he bought into it by striking bargains with the most powerful lobbyists as a way to get a bill through Congress. The author said he could not believe it. As he sees it even with majorities he still had to curry favor with the lobbyists to have any chance to achieve the goals he had promised which confirms that our government is broken with little chance for recovery. On health care the ‘public option” had been his promise. In actual fact it was never considered. He promised to curtail the influence of the drug companies. Instead right off the bat he struck a deal with them continuing to forbid Medicare from using its size to negotiate drug cost which means Americans continue to pay the highest cost of most other nations. For those of you who continue to be supporters of Obama, you will be pleased to note that the author, as he concludes this chapter gives Obama high praise for accomplishments.
After lengthy writing about the money problem which I will not discuss, as you should know as well as I, his final Chapters address Constitutional Conventions as the only real hope our country can have to resolve and return to being the government of the people. He reviews the history from the beginning pointing out that it could be done without jeopardizing the basic Constitution we now have. He believes it will never start in Congress, that only three quarters of the States (38) need to request and the Congress must authorize. It can be limited in scope. I will not try to describe the process, I only hope to put this thought in your mind and perhaps mention to others. In my opinion, it is almost too late but I do like to have a sliver of hope for continuing this great country.
Jack B. Walters
July 12, 2016