Larry Lessig profile in The Nation

The Nation's Christopher Hayes just turned in a fantastic long feature on Larry Lessig -- it does a great job of capturing what makes Larry so amazingly great.
In the past eight years the collusion between government and business has gotten worse, creating what economist Dean Baker terms the "conservative nanny state." Lessig sees unmaking this state of affairs as the challenge of the era. "There's a speech that Reagan gives in 1965," Lessig says, "where he talks about how democracy always fails because once the people recognize they can vote themselves largess, they just vote themselves largess and the fiscal policy is destroyed. Well, Reagan had it half-right. It's not as if it's the poor out there who have figured out how to suck the money out of the rich. It's exactly the other way around."

In fighting this corporate socialism, Lessig thinks there are allies to be found among the "intellectually honest" right. He points out that the need to raise money from industry provides an incentive to grow government and maintain regulation as a kind of leverage to extract donations from industry. He's made battling earmarks, a conservative cause célèbre, a Change Congress core mission; the first member of Congress to endorse Change Congress was Jim Cooper, a conservative blue-dog Democrat who is eyed suspiciously by the party's activist base. Lessig's touchstone in his conservative outreach is his father, who struggled every year to meet his company's pension obligations, only to learn years later that big companies like Bethlehem Steel had an exemption in the law so they didn't have to meet the same standards. "Now, from my modern political perspective, that's exactly the thing I think is most outrageous about how the government functions," says Lessig. "And from my dad's perspective, that's the most absurd thing about how government functions."



  1. Saw a quote in Fortune recently: The problem with big business is that it likes to “privatize its gains and socialize its losses.” That’s why we see big bailouts for reckless banks and incompetent automakers, and eternal copyright protection for Mickey.

  2. The “intellectually honest” right? He’s kidding right? That species went extinct long ago. I wish him luck and I hope that Change Congress can make a difference. But this country is hanging by a thread as it is.

  3. NOEN, come on, that kind of broad-brush statement does no good at all. There’s a coalition of Old Right,libertarian, MOR and soft liberals that support Ron Paul for instance. Many of these people embrace the Austrian school economics of von Mises, Rothbard, and to a lesser extent Hayek, rejecting the current corporatist system of collusion between politicians and special interests outright. They believe that true political and economic liberty are intimately entwined, and that the only solution to the more-or-less continual crises of the corporate state is a restoration of sacred property rights in one’s person and posessions, and an elimination of government subsidization of special interests. If this isn’t intellectual honesty, then it doesn’t exist.

  4. Hmm, guess I ran afoul of the ‘no mentioning candidate’ policy, I’ll condense to say there is a large coalition of intellectually honest, pro-liberty, pro-free enterprise people on what is traditionally called the ‘right’ that find the corporate state abhorrent. Those folks typically have a minarchist or market anarchist bent, usually follow Austrian-school notions of free markets, full property rights, and sound money. To dismiss these folks is short-sighted to say the least.

  5. The cyberlaw community certainly, I am quite sure, hated to see the good professor move on to another area of interest, given his enormous contributions in this space. That said, dealing with the topic/problem of corruption in politics, in a systematic and rigorous way, is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. The primary reason is that markets work better when we have transparency. Politics does as well. Moreover, the two are deeply connected. Lessig may have an even larger impact in this broader context and that is saying quite a lot.

  6. Lessig’s not going to get very far with the “intellectually honest” folks on the right because his analysis of the problem seems to be diametrically opposed to their’s.

    As seen in the Nation’s discussion of the Medicare Part D problem (I’m assuming this reflects Lessig’s view since it’s written as if it is). Basically, the Left view is that income transfers are fine as long as they go in the “correct” direction. But then the evil lobbyist come along and redirect the income transfer in the “wrong” direction.

    The right-libertarian analysis is that the income transfer is a bad idea regardless of the direction it goes in, and that once you’ve got a government large enough that it can make much such income transfers routinely, that the rent seeking behavior that Lessig describes is simply a feature of the system. There’s simply no way within a liberal political system to prevent it. Some group is ultimately going to be able to distort government action to their own private interests (unions, for example, have played an important role in stifling legislation to deal with climate change).

    The only way out of the box is to reduce the regulatory authority of the state, but that’s not something mainstream right or left parties in the US are willing to even consider. The Republicans used to be in favor of reducing the size of government until they came to power, and the Democrats answer seems to be “there’ll be even more state power when we win…only that power will be wielded by the ‘right’ people.”

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