Personal Democracy Forum 2008

Note by Thirsy Mind:
Lawrence Lessig
Stanford Centre for Internet and Society / Change Congress

Going to take about a problem, your problem, our problem, a pattern we’ve gotten used to. The pattern of 4s: every 4th year, there is an explosion of democratic activity, and we go back to sleep. As if in 1 year, we can save us. But it won’t. The problem is we depend too much on this 1 year. We need something better than a Thursday night out.

Framers of US constitution were obsessed with independence (of 1785, not 1776). The dream of the republic was going to be a failure. An extraordinary corruption was going to seep through the nation. A lack of dependence had been lost. They sought non-independent representatives. Institutions and constitutions against dependence.

They failed. Many were drawn to govt for venal reasons. Webster was paid by a bank while Congress was considering regulation. Bribery not a crime in 1853. 19th century was awful. No golden past. Today is better.

Even though today, the individuals are better, the problem is much worse. Because, govt is much more significant. Critical to national problems, more pervasive. Returns are higher for lobbying than competition.

This the dependence the founders feared. Reagan: democracy only works until voters give themselves largesse. But the problem is not the poor stealing from the rich- it’s the opposite. It’s the rich using power to capture government and steal from the poor. AS long as we have private funding of public elections, this corruption will continue. Even among good people.

So what? What are the harms?

Telecommunications act: vice-president Gore wanted to restructure, deregulate. But how can we raise money from the telecoms if we deregulate them?? For those on the right: how much extortion spending is out there? How much are you willing to tolerate for private funding? For the left, the concern is the wrong answer.

There are easy answers. 2+2=4. Spent a decade fighting copyright term extension. My question: does it advance the public good? Milton Friedman signed our brief say it didn’t - this was a ‘no brainer’.

Nutrition: WHO set standards on nutrition, 10% of daily caloric income from sugar. Sugar industry went ballistic, members of Congress threatened pulling funding from WHO. So nutrition board set the standard at 25%. This is an awful diet. This is an easy question done wrong.

Global warming. Consensus on main issues. 0 peer-review articles questioned this consensus. 53% of popular media articles did. Govt got this wrong. Core questions.

This is a profound cost on the way government interacts with our society. It’s not just a problem of big govt or wrong answers. It destroys the conditions for trust.

Dissenting view on a report on the health of stroke drug. It was purged. The company behind the drug had given the AHA $11M. Everyone knew this eroded trust. Compare this to politcs.

March 4: reject telco FISA immunity. June 20: passed. 20 members changed vote, why? The contributions from the industry for these 20 members is double that of those who didn’t. Maybe they were honest, but how can the public believe?

This is the condition for trust.

We need more than Thursdays, ever four years. We need more than hope, we need a sustained effort. Not just Change, but Change Congress. Bipartisan reform movement. Leverage the reform work of others, a Google mashup. New tools and GNU tools.

There’s a voluntary pledge, like with Creative Commons. Give those in power a chance. We need to go tag the people who won’t take the pledge. Make a map of the answers to these questions. Target and fund this reform.

I come here because this project requires you and your skill. In order to build this system, we need the insight from this movement. We need you to join us.

End: There is a flaw, a dependency. We won’t Change this dependency through Thursdays. We need to break our dependency on these Thursdays, this thunder, if we’re going to break their dependency on money.

Think about alcoholism. We all know of pain from this dependency. An alcoholic knows he can’t solve other problems until he solves alcoholism. Not the most important problem, but the first. This is the same. Let’s fix this problem first.



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