Lawrence Lessig at Occupy Wall Street

[Video Link]

Here's Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig in Boston NYC: "If this movement can be identified as a fight against the corruption that our political system has become, then it has the potential to bridge left and right in a way that could become much more generative, much more important, because people on the left and people on the right look at the crony capitalism of this system and they look at the way in which money from Wall Street bought the regulatory infrastructure that led to the collapse of 2008. And even worse, after the collapse of 2008, the same money blocked any reform of this regulatory infrastructure. Both the left and the right can look at this and say 'there's something deeply wrong with this system.'"

Open Culture: Lawrence Lessig Occupy Wall Street Could Bridge Left And Right


  1. As much as I like and respect Lessig, the intellectual godfather of Boing Boing, it doesn’t seem likely that the right will do anything like aligning with the Occupy movements. If anything, expect them to fall in lockstep in opposition to them. 

  2. Be nice if it were true but some outlets, FOX New for example, continues to drive  wedge between left and right on this issue.

  3. “Both the left and the right can look at this and say ‘there’s something deeply wrong with this system.'”

    Yes but the Tea baggers and their owners on the right are ok with the very wrongness of the system.

    1. All of them may not be OK with it, but they would have decidedly different solutions to the problems. As fans of Ayn Rand many – like Ron Paul – would suggest doing away with all government over-site of markets, banks and businesses as the solution.

      That’s something, I think, the OWS folks would find anathema. 

      1. Thanks to the freshwater school having much of the world economy by the balls, Randian thinking is the driving force already…

    2. I agree that the FAR right may not be willing (okay, they’re not smart enough either) to realize the collective advantage to this movement, but not all conservatives are Tea Party followers. Just the fringe. That is what is so scary about politics today – that such a minority could hijack the system to the extent that it has. Not just those with wealth and power (that has been a “forever” thing in civilization) but that there has been such apathy in politics the past few decades that the minor, crazy few, are able to get these idiot people elected.

  4. As far as I can tell, conservatives (Tea Baggers, republicans, libertarians, objectivists, whatever. . . ) blame the government for  corporate bailouts, but not corporations.

    It was somehow wrong for the government to hand out taxpayer money, but NOT wrong for corporations to accept that money.

    Until they straighten themselves out on this point, conservatives are useless.

    1. According to documents obtained via FOIA requests, banks weren’t given the option to refuse the money.

      1. Just think, Henry Paulson, former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs forcing his poor banking buddies to take that money. My heart goes out to them.

      2. I don’t think you read that article correctly. They had to take the money if they didn’t opt out of the program. They could have opted out. I also think it’s safe to say that OWS understands that Wall Street is the problem. If that changes, they can just join the Tea Party or the Randroids.

    2. I don’t give corporations a pass for accepting that money, especially if they lobbied hard to get it. But the blame and fault still rests squarely on the shoulders of a government willing to force its people to redistribute wealth, to the wealthy or poor. 

      Lessig suggests here that the root of the problem is money. I disagree. The root of the problem is that in our current system, money can buy you the opportunity to violate other people’s rights. If the government wasn’t selling this, no one would be buying, and we’d all be so much better off.

      1. No.

        If there is demand, there will always be supply. Always. The problem is not with the government selling the institutionalisation of lopsided privilege, the problem is with people wanting to buy it. 

  5. This has nothing to do with left or right.  It’s this:  THERE’S SOMETHING DEEPLY WRONG WITH THE SYSTEM.

  6. Until OWS recognizes government, not Wall Street, as the problem, the chances of a left/right collaboration on this are slim to none.

    1. Until OWS recognizes government, not Wall Street, as the problem, the chances of a left/right collaboration on this are slim to none.

      Until the right recognizes that government is just a support mechanism for Wall Street, I’m just wasting bandwidth by typing this.

    2. Clearly they are BOTH the problem, especially the way they are enmeshed. Throw in the Military Industrial complex, and other the multinational corporations and you really get a picture of what the problem is. Power centralized (private,financial and corporate) in the ends of a few oligarchics who oversee these private interests and make decisions which effect the majority.  There is no difference now between government and the private sector. This is well understood by many in the movement.  It would be foolish to think that dissolving government power will make us better off. Government is our last formal tool, we have no control over unaccountable corporate power.

    3. Yes, because repeating simplistic libertarian dogma over and over again isn’t any more constructive than repeating any other sort of dogma over and over again. I don’t think that’s quite how you intended to prove your point, but it works. Anybody who’s just going to push another “one problem, one source, one solution” view of our economy is just going to bring the debate down that much further. Thanks for reminding us!

    4. “Government” is a system, the system is corrupted by people, coincidentally rand-roids and neoliberals:  The financial/business elite.  There’s no problem with “government” as more progressive and coincidentally more successful countries easily show.  The same can’t be said for laissez-faire.

  7. The root of the problem goes deeper than government corruption. It is government itself, with its unique power of aggression. That is a rotten foundation for a peaceful society. People try to use it for what they believe is good, but it can never be good, and is bound to be corruptible as it has too much power to offer.

    1. Right — Government is the codification and sanctification by the people (hopefully) of the use of force. Therefore, we should use it as sparingly as possible, on only for those things for which we feel that the use of force is justified.

      Stopping and punishing violent criminals: check. Defending our borders from invasion: check. Taking private property (with compensation) to build roads: check. Taking money I’ve earned and giving it to somehow who feels that they deserve it because they took out a bunch of student loans for a degree in Humanities: not so much.

      1. Sorry for lengthy reply…

        I used to think something like Lessig and yourself, thinking a better and less corrupt government is possible, by putting better checks on it. Although we might slow the rot (probably at great effort), I don’t think that’s a good approach anymore. No need to build society on such unhealthy substrate.

        The simple reason is that governments don’t get their power from, or represent, their citizens. For a society to be peaceful, aggression has to be unethical, and citizens cannot delegate powers which they don’t have to a representative govenment. 

        I cannot murder people, therefore no government can murder people in my name. It doesn’t matter whether I am a righteous person or not, or how many of us bundle our authority together, aggression is simply unacceptable. That includes taxation.

        It is no more right for a majority to use force over the minority as it is for the minority to use force over the majority. If the makority doesn’t recognize that, they legitimize the aggression of the state, and expose society to a fight for political power (which small elites usually end up winning). Also, it breeds a culture of conflicts (you win, I lose) because choices are forced on the rest of us (unlike voluntary services).

        All the important services you cite can be provided morally and, I believe, more efficiently without government power, but rather voluntarily. I recommend Robert Murphy’s essay “Chaos Theory” for more details on legal and defense services. Also Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s “The myth of natioanl defense”. Both are available in pdf.

        Finally, there are some very important and practical problems: how does government know what is the right amount of roads (there is no profit/loss or competition to rationalize the tax)? If government has the monopoly of force and is the final arbiter in all matters, what protects citizens from the government (see police abuse, crony regulations, lies and unkept promises, …)? What protects the minority? The incentives are such that government will take advantage of any opportunity that does trigger massive revolts, just as surely as bankers will take advantage of any bailout that”s offered.

  8. It COULD be more than a leftist movement, but I frankly am not all that hopeful.  The American left has shown a damning lack of an ability to stay on target.  The second they build up anything that even begins to approach momentum, they fragment into a thousand little pieces, each trying to sell their pet leftist cause of the week (save the animal/plant, free  whoever, end the war in wherever, stop X technology, etc.).  It makes you want to grab their little ADD necks and throttle them until they focus.  

    Exhibit 1, this is occupy Boston’s (my home town) first and I believe only resolution:

    It makes a sane person want to tear their hair out.  It is like they are desperate to alienate everyone who isn’t a pure leftist, while at the same time convince even pure leftists that they are a bunch of crystal wielding hippies who pray to animal spirits for economic advice.

    They have popular attention for one thing and one thing only, the economy stupid.  Forget every other leftist cause and fucking focus!  Don’t worry, if you achieve anything like momentum or victory, other stuff will find its way into the back door.  

    This is something the Tea Party has learned.  The Tea Party is an economic revolt.  It got its popularity for being focused on economics and ignoring the usual right wing douchebaggery on social issues.  They got a little steam, scored a few victories and hey, look, they slipped more than one homophobic douche bag politician into power at the same time.  Granted, they have more or less devolved into being a purely extreme right social and economic conservative faction, but before they did they had some pretty broad support for a time.

    The left could sweep the field clean if they could just focus on the economy for like 30 solid seconds, offered up some decent radical but left-centristish legislation revolving around busting up the old boys network.  The piece BoingBoing did earlier had exactly the right flavor of legislation that I would call left-centerish legislation they could receive broad support.  More this:, less looking for deep tribal wisdom from your animal spirit.

    I’m not optimistic, but I would love to be proven wrong.  Instead, I think the left is going to rile up their base, declare that victory is showing up and drawing attention so that when the movement fades with nothing to show for it they can still call it worthwhile.  They will just sort of fade off as nothing solid comes from the movement and the slow decline of popular support will results in the movement running left and off the deep end and spewing more babble like the above Occupy Boston nonsense as only the die hard leftist stick around.  Eh, that is great for grabbing another percent or two by energizing the base, but it isn’t going to change the world when you need 60 votes in the senate to ask permission to go to the bathroom.

    1. But rationality itself is the problem, as anyone who’s been near an arts/humanities faculty in the last 30 years would know. Acidhead visions of recreating indigenous utopia are obviously the solution.

      Seriously, though, I agree with your comment so much that I have to chip in. The movement is vital, and the need to reign in the urge to add irrelevant issues is utterly paramount. Anyone seekling to drag in the non-economic issues needs to be sat down and told, “Look, unrestrained corporate greed is destroying the political and economic basis for life as we know it in the USA, and everyone is or will be affected. We have a chance to do something about it now, and there is no excuse for wasting this once-in -a-generation opportunity. So leave your anti-GMO/-patriarchy/-imperialism/-homophobia/-9-11 coverup/ -animal cruelty placards at home because WE JUST MIGHT WIN THIS ONE if we keep our eye on the ball.”

      1. You mean, they’d resemble a movement that has chalked up a lot of recent successes? 
        I take your point; the Left wouldn’t know what to do with itself.

        1. You mean, they’d resemble a movement that has chalked up a lot of recent successes?

          When you say ‘successes’, do you mean destroying every effort at bipartisanship, bringing government to a halt and instituting ‘government by hissy fit’?

          1. Yes. The movement was created (or at any rate, hijacked) in order to advance certain interests. It succeeded in doing so. Wouldn’t you agree that it was one of the Koch Bros most successful investments?

          2. Why is it so hard to accept that a political movement you hate is successful? “Successful” is not synonymous with “legitimate” or “ethical” (at least, outside the USA its not). And it need involve no effort at all – the taoist idea of wu-wei (non-action) accomodates that point beautifully. All it connotes is an entity achieving their goals.
            I believe the Tea Party is primarily an astroturf movement, one created to ensure that the post-financial crisis backlash against Wall St does not result in effective regulation and redistribution of wealth. Hobbling Obama, shifting the centre of political debate a long way to the right, and retaking Washington are all part of this. Undeniably, the movement has succeeded to a huge extent – hell, they’ve even made progressive taxation and closure of corporate tax loopholes sound like radical ideas, or at least put their advocates on the defensive.
            Its worth remembering that this movement has drawn heavily on tactics found in progressive activism. If any movement out there is using the full range of Saul Alinsky ideas, the full range of earlier organizational concepts and activism, and adapting them to the current setting, its the Tea Party. Failure to learn from their successes means the Left will, as usual, end up with little more than “moral victory” – which is a nice term for failure.

      2. The Tea Party swept out a Democratic majority and replaced it with a Republican super majority.  People are freaked out about the economy and toss their vote to anyone who looks like they have the answer.  They will cross party lines to do it if they are desperate enough.  In Mass we elected a freaking Republican to the senate.  Ponder that for a few seconds.  Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.  We have gay marriage, decriminalized pot, and a fucking Republican senator.  Do you have any understanding of how scared and desperate Massachusetts citizens need to be to elect a Republican to the senate?

        The Tea Party rose on an economy driven platform and got people to vote Republican who would normally never consider it.  They rose, failed to deliver, and are currently tearing them selves apart and shedding broad support as fast as they can by giving up on the economy and dragging in every pet Republican issue they can find into their movement.Yes damn it, the Occupy movement SHOULD learn a lesson from the Tea Party.  Dump all the other issues and focus on the economy.  Don’t worry, it isn’t like just voting on the economy made it so that the Tea Party didn’t put in power homophobic douche bags.  In the same way, if the Occupy movement got its champions in on the economy, it isn’t like they wouldn’t take all of the other baggage in with them.

        Of course, you need not worry about any of this if when the general public, people like the Massachusetts democrats freaked enough to voted Republican, turn their gaze to the Occupy movement and find a leftist carnival talking about every stupid little pet cause they can scrounge up.

        This isn’t a leftist uprising.  Get over it.  This is a centrist freak out.  The center tried the Tea Party when it declared that it had the answer.  They have found them lacking.  They are frantically looking left.  Don’t look like a bunch jackasses as their gaze passes over.  The window is short, the center is panicked, and unless you are talking about the economy they don’t give a damn about what you have to say.  Talk about the economy today.  Your pet causes will all be there tomorrow.

        1. Ponder that for a few seconds. Massachusetts elected a Republican senator.

          Centerfold first; Republican second. Voting for the person you’d like to fuck rather than the one who’s most qualified is another of our unfortunate electoral habits. Thank God Biebz is Canadian.

        2. People are freaked out about the economy and toss their vote to anyone who looks like they have the answer. 

          And you consider this a Tea Bagger “success?”

          If OWS ever becomes like the Tea Party in any way, then they’re over.

        3. Democrats lost those seats by their own inaction and capitulation.  The former Obama boosters are not disillusioned with him because he was too progressive.  They lost those seats because they threw their former core under the bus.

          1. Democrats lost those seats by their own inaction and capitulation.  The former Obama boosters are not disillusioned with him because he was too progressive.  They lost those seats because they threw their former core under the bus.

            That is a complete fantasy.  The American public are not a bunch of progressive liberals waiting to be unchained.  They are an obstinately conservative bunch that pretty much unfailingly vote conservative except when faced by extreme incompetence from the right.  

            Obama didn’t win a progressive victory.  Bush burned America down and tanked the economy.  McCain hobbled onto the scene looking senile tugging along a VP who was brazenly stupid and incoherent.  You literally could not write a more doomsday scenario for the Republicans than that.  The election was Obama’s to lose, not his to win… 

            …and it took exactly two years after burning down Rome than American forgot about all of that and go back to voting for conservatives.

            Every victory democrats win is won with blood, sweat, and tears.  Every time the conservatives fail to win, it is because they screwed up or their incompetence at governing has become so brazen that it can’t be ignored.

            My point is that if you want a popular movement, realize what “popular” means.  It means a normally conservative people.  Those normally conservative people are panicked right now because the right has become so utterly incoherent that it is hard to ignore.  They are looking left and there is a very small window to capture them.  They don’t give two shits about saving the whatever, freeing the whoever, or ending the injustice in wherever.  They are not progressive looking to be freed.  They are conservatives in a panic.    This is still an opportunity, but it means that the left might have to do something they seem unfailingly unable to do… and just focus on the economy for a solid thirty seconds.

  9. I appreciate Leesig’s perspective, but showing up three weeks late to the party and trying to define what it’s about seems a little paternalistic/nihilistic.

  10. Neoliberal dogma is what’s allowed the plutocracy we currently have.  There’s nothing wrong with “governments” as progressive countries have easily shown.  I’m still waiting for the successful libertarian state……………..

    Neoliberals can work to destroy good governance and then use that as an example to say “see! governments don’t work”. Ours doesn’t work because neoliberals have corrupted it.

  11. Occupy Wall Street isn’t the 99%. It’s the 49.5%. The only way things will really change is if the 49.5% of tea party republicans join with them for the same goals. Only then will the 1% even break a sweat.

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