A Harvard law professor presents the case that America has become structurally compromised with a pervasiveness that transcends individual corruption.
In a book based on a series of lectures, Lessig (Republic Lost: 2.0, 2015), co-founder of Creative Commons, focuses on how the country’s institutions are no longer serving the purposes for which they were designed. They have succumbed to third-party interests: wealthy, corporate, market forces, all of which have vested interests in helping the rich get richer. “My belief is that we have allowed core institutions of America’s economic, social, and political life to become corrupted,” writes the author. “Not by evil souls, but by good souls. Not through crime, but through compromise.” In our current situation, wealth exerts its influence wherever such influence can manifest itself, from campaign financing that restricts the choices of candidates from which average Americans can choose to academic research funded for the benefit of those doing the funding. Lessig also shows how pharmaceutical companies have compromised the profession of psychiatry, promoting the dubious concept of “chemical imbalance” that can be balanced by prescription, and how market forces and technological disruption have transformed media in general and journalism in particular, catering to the appetite for junk food where democracy demands nourishment. The author is more convincing in his case against “institutional corruption” than in finding the solution. As he writes in the chapter on the media, where he suggests that journalism might better become more transparently partisan, some readers might think his proposal “seems just nuts.” Similarly, his borrowing of a proposal for “deliberative polling”—leaving discussions of issues and nominations in the hands of 1,000 or so randomly selected yet representative participants—isn’t likely to be adopted any time soon. Yet the book has value in showing how much that ails America isn’t illegal or even unethical but systemic.
The diagnosis rings truer than the cures.