Harvard Law School cyber-law expert Lessig (Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, 2008, etc.) turns his attention to what he believes to be rampant institutional corruption destroying American democracy.
While the U.S. Congress has lost credibility because of widespread conviction that senators and representatives are bought and paid for by special interests, the author argues that this is the fault of a system that has gone out of control rather than the personal venality of politicians. Lessig, a one-time conservative who supported President Obama, attributes this to systematic economic deregulation over the past 20 years, which has allowed for the concentration of wealth into the hands of a small number of individuals who now wield disproportionate power. He shows in detail how financial rather than national interest has come to dominate legislation and the practice of government on both sides of the aisle, despite stated political allegiance. A root cause is the rise of campaign spending, which has grown from $56,000 for a member of the House in 1974 to $1.3 million in 2008 and is still rising. Not only do politicians cater to their largest contributors, but a majority of their time and energy is necessarily diverted to fundraising for the next campaign. Lessig describes how entitlements to big business (“corporate welfare”) provide absolutely no benefit for average Americans or the poor, as exemplified by protective tariffs on sugar and support for ethanol production, which benefit agribusiness to the detriment of public health and the environment. He suggests that campaign-finance reform is the most important issue to be remedied, and he proposes a national discussion about the necessity for a constitutional convention to implement reform.
A well-reasoned argument on the structural problems now paralyzing American government, with a less-convincing proposed solution.