Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It

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Grand Central Publishing, Oct 5, 2011 - Political Science - 400 pages
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In an era when special interests funnel huge amounts of money into our government-driven by shifts in campaign-finance rules and brought to new levels by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission-trust in our government has reached an all-time low. More than ever before, Americans believe that money buys results in Congress, and that business interests wield control over our legislature.

With heartfelt urgency and a keen desire for righting wrongs, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig takes a clear-eyed look at how we arrived at this crisis: how fundamentally good people, with good intentions, have allowed our democracy to be co-opted by outside interests, and how this exploitation has become entrenched in the system. Rejecting simple labels and reductive logic-and instead using examples that resonate as powerfully on the Right as on the Left-Lessig seeks out the root causes of our situation. He plumbs the issues of campaign financing and corporate lobbying, revealing the human faces and follies that have allowed corruption to take such a foothold in our system. He puts the issues in terms that nonwonks can understand, using real-world analogies and real human stories. And ultimately he calls for widespread mobilization and a new Constitutional Convention, presenting achievable solutions for regaining control of our corrupted-but redeemable-representational system. In this way, Lessig plots a roadmap for returning our republic to its intended greatness.

While America may be divided, Lessig vividly champions the idea that we can succeed if we accept that corruption is our common enemy and that we must find a way to fight against it. In REPUBLIC, LOST, he not only makes this need palpable and clear-he gives us the practical and intellectual tools to do something about it.

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Amit Sarkar, New York: Lessig's eye-opener book, unfortunately, will not be received well by most Americans, who passionately "believe" that our democracy is near perfect, that political corruption exists only in countries like China or India, and our politician including Obama are always "fighting" for the people who elected them (against whom, they never ask). BUT, like religious belief of the Creationist, they also want to cling to the comfortable delusional faith despite ample factual evidence to the contrary.
I think public confusion might arise from the insanely narrow definition of corruption itself -- crude variety of cash bribes changing hands in exchange of political and/or economic favors, which we have outlawed and enforced long ago. But most do not recognize that over time we have actually legalized unlimited amount of corruption by a far more dangerous, subtle (indirect) form as described in this book. For example, how many Americans know that under the landmark legislation Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), every act of U.S. businesses "influencing" foreign government official and politicians with money, e.g. lobbying and campaign contribution, is defined as "criminal act of bribery", although they are perfectly legal IF committed within the U.S.?

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The problem with "Big Money" is it will almost always serve the interests of "Big Money". It is a long and growing problem that has long bothered me. I believe this is a major reason that the U.S. economy has slowed and will probably not return to a period in which the potential of the country's inherent wealth in people and natural resources will be fully realized or broadly shared. The very high level of income inequality in the United States is the direct result of the influence of the "have it alls"who have accumulated enormous personal wealth and incomes and feel the need to use a portion of that wealth to gain political influence to protect their industry, products, markets, and profits and keep others out. They use the representative government at all levels: city, county, state, and federal to essentially keep the economic playing field tilted in their favor. That is why it has always mystified me as to why informed corporate interests keep trying to chase low cost labor sources and outsource our capital to the low wage countries. The country is drowning in the cesspool of greed and forgetting the importance of the common welfare to their own future. I heard Professor Lessig on the Charlie Rose show and thought his idea of creating a political currency that could be used by all in equal share to capture the attention of political candidates to the broad interests rather than their donors was a great idea. I went to the Senate Library and told them to order the book. It came in and I am on the waiting list. President Obama needs to read this book and talk with Professor Lessig. I was encouraged by the President's recent speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, on income inequality, where he said, ""this is not just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class. Because what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
I am here to say they are wrong. (Applause.) I’m here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we’re greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. (Applause.) These aren’t Democratic values or Republican values. These aren’t 1 percent values or 99 percent values. They’re American values. And we have to reclaim them. (Applause.) There is hope!

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About the author (2011)

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, 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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