PLEDGE NOW
Lawrence Lessig on Money, Corruption and Politics

How to fix American politics. Money out, people, up, and “lets get on it” says Harvard’s Lawrence Lessig.

A protest inside the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Protesters are demanding that the lawmakers represent the "99 percent" and not just the corporate lobbyist and and the richest. (AP)

A protest inside the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Protesters are demanding that the lawmakers represent the "99 percent" and not just the corporate lobbyist and and the richest. (AP)

A lot of people are afraid the country’s going to hell in a hand basket. Lawrence Lessig is afraid you’re right. Specifically, afraid that big money has corrupted our politics, our Congress, our democracy – and paralyzed us from acting to keep the country great. Lessig is a South Dakota-born, Pennsylvania-raised big thinker who first took on the Internet and intellectual freedom.

Now he’s turned big-time activist for the Republic itself, with a keen diagnosis, and a plan to set things right.

This hour, On Point, we start the New Year off with a plan to save the nation.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is the author of Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress — and a Plan to Stop It.

Highlights

“We’ve got to work on getting a representative democracy working,” said legal scholar turned political activist Lawrence Lessig. “We can do that by destroying this corrupting influence of money in our system.”

Lessig says that our political system is so corrupted by money that it hurts both causes on the left and the right. On the left, for instance, the failure to pass global warming legislation or universal healthcare, in the face of institutional inertia. While on the right, he says, issues like simplifying the tax code have fallen victim to the same forces resisting reform. “Our current tax system with all its complexities is in part designed to make it easier for candidates, in particular congressmen, to raise money to get back to congress,” Lessig said. “All sorts of special exceptions which expire after a limited period of time are just a reason to pick up the phone and call somebody and say ‘Your exception is about to expire, here’s a good reason for you to help us fight to get it to extend.’ And that gives them the opportunity to practice what is really a type of extortion – shaking the trees of money in the private sector into their campaign coffers so that they can run for congress again.”

Those giveaways, tax breaks, and subsidies all corrupt and distort the free market, which should anger both sides of the political spectrum, he said. “Businesses increasingly recognize that their highest return on investment comes not from inventing the next great widget, instead spending money on lobbyists who can get special deals built into the tax code or built into the government spending programs that give them a higher return than any of the investment that they would ever make by investing in genuine innovation.”

So, how can the system be saved? A system of publicly funded campaigns for starters. But getting Washington to sign-off on such a system, Lessig said: they’ve got too much money to lose.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “In “Republic, Lost” Lawrence Lessig — a Harvard Law School professor and a leading advocate of applying the principles of open Web access to less technical forms of creative expression, like music, writing, and the visual arts — makes an extraordinary leap of faith.”

Boston Review “So we’re pretty good as a body politic in responding to a slap like 9/11, we’re pretty good as a body politic in responding to obvious moral wrong—Rod Blagojevich or Randy “Duke” Cunningham—but it turns out we’re not very good at responding to these invidious, systemic wrongs engaged in by people who seem to us to be decent people.”

Video Slideshow: Lessig On Money And Politics

Activist and legal scholar Lawrence Lessig’s 50-minute audio-slide show “Republic, Lost” on the corrupting power of money in politics, and what he thinks we should do about it. (Click on the photo below to access the video)

Photos

Harvard's Lawrence Lessig in the WBUR studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Harvard's Lawrence Lessig in the WBUR studios. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Feb 12, 2016
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., reacts to the cheering crowd at his primary night rally Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Trump and Sanders take New Hampshire. Ferguson under fire from the Justice Department. A rocky week on Wall Street. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Feb 12, 2016
Overcast sky surrounds a man as he rests beneath the art sculpture 'Cupid’s Span' Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 at Rincon Park in San Francisco. The Bay area has endured unsettled, rainy weather for a week. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Love in the digital age. Romance, sex and expectations in a time of Tinder, Bumble and OKCupid.

RECENT
SHOWS
Feb 11, 2016
A sampling of same of the great books author David Denby thinks could help encourage young readers to love books. (National Post)

David Denby on the 24 great books that can bring even today’s kids to reading. And maybe you, too.

 
Feb 11, 2016
In this Oct. 21, 2013, file photo, Vern Lund, president of Liberty Mine in central Mississippi near DeKalb, Miss., holds some of the lignite coal planned for use in the nearby Mississippi Power Co. carbon capture power plant. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

The Supreme Court hits the brakes on the heart of President Obama’s push to fight global warming. We’ll dig in.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Notes From New Hampshire, #9: Remedy Or Replica?
Wednesday, Feb 10, 2016

Jack Beatty offers one last note from New Hampshire, and looks beyond to the primary races yet to come in both parties.

More »
Comment
 
Tom Ashbrook’s Note From New Hampshire
Tuesday, Feb 9, 2016

Fresh off the New Hampshire Presidential Primary results, host Tom Ashbrook reflects on his trip to New Hampshire, and on what comes next in the race to the White House.

More »
Comment
 
Notes From New Hampshire, #6: Bernie v. Hillary — The Electability Debate
Monday, Feb 8, 2016

Bill and Betty are not real New Hampshire voters. But their arguments about the Democratic race for President most certainly are.

More »
Comment