Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig made a significant impression when he gave a talk entitled, “Innovation Corruption,” on May 20th at the Yahoo campus in Santa Clara, CA. His message was consistently simple and resounding: government and business are corrupted by money. This corruption becomes a roadblock to innovation because regulation is designed not for the social good but to maximize the money to Congress. The only way to fix this is to get money out of the system – a system Lessig referred to as the “economy of influence.” The three major players in the system are lobbyists, members of Congress, and “interests.” Lessig compares lobbyists to “suppliers, or pushers inside the economy of influence.” The boom of lobbying has pushed Congress into a pathological dependency on campaign cash. Money passes from the hands of the interest groups to the lobbyists, from the lobbyists to Congress in the form of campaign donations, and through legislation, money passes from Congress to the interest groups. This vicious cycle of a system has a significant effect – legislation gets bent away from the public good because “policy gets bent to those who pay.” “The vast majority of Americans believes that money buys results,” said Lessig. Because of money in the system, Americans have become cynical. They’ve disengaged, and the country’s democracy has become less responsive and more corrupt. From the romance of Obama’s presidency, to the food industry, to the broadband deployment problem in the U.S. and Europe, Lessig cited examples of influence of money from a variety of sources. His plea to the audience was to not be passive – that the public is very much a part of the problem when clearly there are patterns but no one does anything about it. As a major player in the Internet world, he’d like to see Yahoo pushing for competition in the IP world. As far as the government is concerned, Lessig would like to see a return to citizen-funded elections – a concept born during Teddy Roosevelt’s term in office. Such a system would eliminate money from the economy of influence – the underlying cause of corruption and ultimate roadblock to innovation. Check out the video below for Lessig’s full talk.
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