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Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress 
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
Lawrence Lessig's book is the clearest exposition I've read of why Congress is so dysfunctional. Unfortunately, through no fault of his own, it's also the most pessimistic.

I've been reading a lot of books about the systemic problems with America lately, and each of them has contributed to peeling back the onion layers in its own way. Lessig is a geek: I first saw him when he was keynoting about copyright at an Open Source conference. He started out Republican, clerked for a few Supremes, then wound up functionally liberal but with an appreciation of all sides that comes through in the book.

Lessig tracks how money buys congresscritters without any violation of the law being necessary. Occasionally a critter skirts too close to that line and crosses it, and many people mistake those rare incursions as being evidence that the system is largely functional by virtue of the few exceptions. But in fact virtually all of the critters who never see an indictment are equally corrupt. Congress is now about fundraising. Period. That's what they spend 90% of their time on. If some organization contributes to their campaign, they will favor it without there being any more overt communication: The data supports the thesis unequivocally. Lessig, geeking out, supplies numerous statistics and quotes to ram home the point.

The second half of the title is "... and a Plan to Stop It." Actually, he supplies three, and - I really respect his geek creds - estimates the odds of success for each. The highest one gets a measly 10% chance. He doesn't shirk the implications of this: When it was suggested that this is hopeless, he equates his effort to learning that his child has terminal cancer: No matter what the odds, you gotta fight. And his solutions are nothing if not creative. There's no perceptible partisan agenda here: He openly admits that while he tried to find party-neutral interpretations in each of his analyses, they turned out pro-liberal more often than not and that's just the way it was.

If you want to stay with the blue pill, stay away from this book. Because he makes his case with the relentless logic of a scientist. And that leads to a depressing conclusion when you apply systems thinking to the problem (I've been rereading The Fifth Discipline recently) and you realize how powerful are the equilibrative forces here.

This work shines a powerful light into a very dusty corner. Lessig should get some sort of prize for making clear something that was previously far more obscure. It's brought the understanding of corruption down the scale from requiring Einstein-level intelligence to merely white-collar professional level. Unfortunately, in my opinion we will need someone to lay it bare at the Joe-the-Plumber level before we get a groundswell that could make a difference.


Sun May 26, 2013 3:57 pm
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Heinlein Nexus
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
If you have a favorite "This could easily be fixed by---" then I urge you to read this book, because Lessig thoughtfully disposes of most of the "simple" solutions and shows why they cannot work. This is not simply a matter of no one having pushed the right button yet. It is more like trying to solve the problem of a tree having outgrown the largest pot in the nursery.


Sun May 26, 2013 5:05 pm
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
It sounds like a good book for every one-horse reform political novice to read. From town councils to the US Senate, the idea that a junior (often virgin) electee can take a one-item slate and beat the constituency into shape with it is one of the most common yet spectacularly ineffectual political ideas.

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Mon May 27, 2013 7:32 am
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
JamesGifford wrote:
It sounds like a good book for every one-horse reform political novice to read. From town councils to the US Senate, the idea that a junior (often virgin) electee can take a one-item slate and beat the constituency into shape with it is one of the most common yet spectacularly ineffectual political ideas.


Amen. Unfortunately, the system itself is in a self-perpetuating positive feedback loop that corrupts all that enter it, frequently without their knowing it. Lessig's strategies require coordinated and unusual tactics. He had some hopes that the OWS movement could be a vehicle for them but I don't know where he stands on that now.


Mon May 27, 2013 11:14 am
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
PeterScott wrote:
Lessig's strategies require coordinated and unusual tactics. He had some hopes that the OWS movement could be a vehicle for them but I don't know where he stands on that now.

Occupy will go down in social/protest history as an example of a spectacularly wasted opportunity. It was a vehicle of unlimited potential that the occupants promptly disabled, then dismantled.


Mon May 27, 2013 12:09 pm
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
Three words: Late. Roman. Empire.

Two time periods: 376-476. 1913-2013.

One Picture:

Image

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Mon Aug 05, 2013 1:11 pm
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
JamesGifford wrote:
Occupy will go down in social/protest history as an example of a spectacularly wasted opportunity. It was a vehicle of unlimited potential that the occupants promptly disabled, then dismantled.

The second season of Aaron Sorkin's HBO series The Newsroom is tackling this subject. I think they're doing a good job.

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Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:34 am
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
Robert's point is getting a lot of air time lately: The parade of authors through the Daily Show's interviewing chair has swelled to a torrent. The latest was the author of "This Town," who made John Oliver cry because he didn't like to admire a book that broke his heart so much. It's about D.C. and just how much it corrupts all who land within its walls. I haven't read it yet, but it will join about a dozen others in the same category that have come out post-financial collapse. Lessig's is still the best I've read yet, though it offers no real hope.

I've been reading comparisons to the Romans since about 2003; they get closer all the time. I don't see any escape, either. Image a trip to 200AD. How would you counsel Caesar to avoid the impending collapse? And if Hari Seldon couldn't do it, what gives you a better chance?


Tue Aug 06, 2013 6:06 pm
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
Peter, it was specifically This Town I had in mind...there is no "solution" I think. Great success leads to comfort, comfort to decline. I think what will happen is more like a "velvet divorce" with DC reduced in scope and power. But that is best case. Much more violent scenarios are possible of course.

But really, doesn't it come to "what can't continue...won't?" Seems very Heinleinian.

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Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:11 pm
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Post Re: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress
It ain't comfort that's the cause. It's hubris.


Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:28 am
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