Lessig on Dependence and Independence

First, Larry Lessig gives some of the best sermons in academia. Or anywhere. He is so freaking good. That Larry’s a master presentationist is secondary to his excellence in the art of homiletics, in the sense that Ray Charles’ piano mastery was secondary to his transcendent skills as a singer, a composer, a performer.

Instituional corruption is the topic of today’s Lessig talk, at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Taking notes live.

Early point. The country’s founders value independence as, among other things, the absence of depencence. Or dependence on the wrong influences. Some great quotes, which I just missed.

Now he’s unpacking influence. Giving examples.

Lobbying now a $9 billion industry. One lobbyist earned more than $100 million in that industry (missed the name).

Hall & Deardorff (in American Political Science Review): Lobbying as subsidy.

Mazolli: lobbyists just get “access,” which is not influence. Easy cases allow us to charitably let that slide.

Example after example. Nutrition. Global Warming. Copyright. Health Care. Taking money is standard now. John Stennis, long dead and hardly a paragon of probity, quoted as opposing it. Lead in gasoline.

Side thought: to what degree are Harvard (or any major university) and its schools and centers, industries? Or influential within industries? Or influential within government? How many Harvard veterans now work in the Obama administration? (The same might have been asked about Yale veterans for some earlier administrations. Or for Berkeley in the California state government.) This isn’t taking money, or taking people; but rather an aspect of echo-chamberism. Perhaps. Not sure. I’m expecting Larry to visit this later. Hope he will, anyway.

Larry: The real decline of journalsim began happening long before the Internet came along. It began in the ’70s and ’80s when papers and broadcasters sold out to giants that could give a damn about the institutional missions, of community, and the rest of it. Or he’s citing sources and claims on that.


  1. Todd Carpenter’s avatar

    Lobbying is a $9 billion industry – yes, but if only the congressional earmarks were “payback” for lobbying according to the Office of Management & Budget http://earmarks.omb.gov/2008_appropriations_home.html information on earmarks there were $16 billion in earmarks in 2008. However, if you consider that some significant portion of the $2.4 trillion dollar budget –2006 figures BTW– less $150 billion debt service, $500 billion to social security, $420 billion for welfare, and other transfers, leaves some $1.3 TRILLION dollars which could be influenced and directed to contractors, manufacturers, and industry of one sort of another. In this context, the lobbying investment is small change and a good investment to be made by industry to influence legislators. I’m consistently surprised that the figure is so low. If I had $1 million and could influence the decision to get my company/industry $1 billion in government funding. That’s a 1,000% return on my investment. It hardly makes sense that legislators get MORE money?

    I’m not at all implying that this is a good way to run government, but am only surprised that $9 billion is considered to be a big deal.

  2. Patrick’s avatar

    Lessig gave a variation of this at UCSB last year. He has shifted his mission, appropriately I think, to the main threat to our nation’s future- the campaign finance problem. Every elected representative in DC now spends half their time there raising money.
    The other great thing he says it that it doesn’t matter if the money buys influence. The presence of money in any issue instantly undermines the public’s confidence in the decision rendered. The presence of money removes our faith. Thus the most serious corruption is in our enrollment in the social contract that Congress has with us.
    Lessig could/should give the issue briefing to all American’s on any issue. He makes slide presentation into a rythmic musical experience.

  3. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Argh. The problem is that people don’t just tolerate the government meddling in the affairs of coporations — they are EAGER to have that happen. Consequently, corporations need to worry about what the government is doing, and need to control it. They don’t have a choice, because if they choose not to, then their competitors who continue to lobby will gain a government franchise.

    That’s what it comes down to: if we continue to allow the government to frick with markets, markets will frick with government. They’re opposite sides of the same coin. The only solution ONLY solution ONLY SOLUTION is for governments to stop meddling in markets. I cannot emphasize this enough.

    Now, that does not mean that markets must be unregulated. In fact, there is no such thing as an unregulated market. There are only markets which are regulated by governments or markets which are regulated by customers (a so-called free market). When markets are not regulated by politicians, corporations have NO CHOICE but to please their customers. If politicians have no power to regulate corporations, the corporation which continues to lobby will just be wasting their money.

    Do free markets sound impossible? Well, so did freedom of religion 250 years ago. It was an absurd notion, an idealistic notion: that a country could operate without choosing a religion for its citizens.

  4. Seth Finkelstein’s avatar

    “Side thought: to what degree are Harvard (or any major university) and its schools and centers, industries? Or influential within industries? Or influential within government?”

    There’s whole books written on this. For that matter, what do you think I, and others, are always going on about, in terms of alliances with industries?

    So what did he conclude? I thought of attending, but I figured it had a poor risk/reward potential, given my views.

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