Friday, November 16, 2007

Must Read: Lessig on Politics

Stanford Law Prof. Lawrence Lessig makes the case for Obama over Clinton.

First, view his lecture on corruption, or read the posted summary [by Aaron Swartz]:
(American) politics is filled with easy cases that we get wrong. The scientific consensus on global warming is overwhelming, but we abandon the Kyoto Protocol. Nutritionists are clear that sugar is unhealthy, but the sugar lobby gets it into dietary recommendations. Retroactive copyright extensions do nothing for society, but Congress passes them over and over.

Similar errors are made in other fields that have the public trust. Studies of new drugs are biased towards the drug companies. Law professors and other scholars write papers biased towards the clients they consult for.

Why? Because the trusted people in each case are acting as _dependents_. The politicians are dependent on fundraising money. They are good people, but they need to spend a quarter of their time making fundraising calls. So most of the people they speak to are lobbyists and they never even hear from the other side. If they were freed from this dependence they would gladly do the right thing.

Then read his post On Clinton and Lobbyists:
The problem is not, as Clinton seemed to suggest, that anyone believes that lobbyists are evil.... But just because a system is populated with good people does mean the system itself is not corrupt. And the problem with this system is the way it obviously queers good judgment when so much effort by politicians must be devoted to raising money in order to keep your job.

Put differently, if there were a way to fund campaigns that wouldn't create the stain of corruption, we would still need (and want) lobbyists. Their job would be simply to make policymakers aware of the interests they represent. But just because your job is to educate politicians, it doesn't mean you have to be able to give politicians money.

Thirdly, his declaration of support for Barack Obama:

First, and again, I know him, which means I know something of his character. "He is the real deal" has become my favorite new phrase. Everything about him, personally, is what you would dream a candidate should be. Integrity, brilliance, warmth, humor and most importantly, commitment. They all say they're all this. But for me, this part is easy, because about this one at least, I know.

Second, I believe in the policies. Clearly on the big issues -- the war and corruption. Obama has made his career fighting both. But also on the issues closest to me. As the technology document released today reveals, to anyone who reads it closely, Obama has committed himself to important and importantly balanced positions.... As you'll read, Obama has committed himself to a technology policy for government that could radically change how government works. The small part of that is simple efficiency -- the appointment with broad power of a CTO for the government, making the insanely backwards technology systems of government actually work.

But the big part of this is a commitment to making data about the government (as well as government data) publicly available in standard machine readable formats. The promise isn't just the naive promise that government websites will work better and reveal more. It is the really powerful promise to feed the data necessary for the Sunlights and the Maplights of the world to make government work better. Atomize (or RSS-ify) government data (votes, contributions, Members of Congress's calendars) and you enable the rest of us to make clear the economy of influence that is Washington.

These may not be hot-button issues, but one cannot exaggerate how important it is to improve our democratic institutions -- to strengthen them against corruption and irrationality -- and the sort of transparency Obama promises is a vital first step.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think one even needs corruption in order to come to incorrect decisions. A lot of it has to do with structures in the decision making and conventions of behaviour. even if you had a totally non corrupt leader that would only improve decision making to a certain degree.

    With the Kyoto protocol for example the left is also badly wrong (both practically and philosophicaly) - and it isn't money but instead the structure of relationships that makes them that way. And technically sugar is bad in context. Part of that is related to people like maia who don't want to be told being fat is bad. And if anything in the west we are probably denied more drugs and operations than we should be.

    Having said that I think there might be some benefit in going as far to the other end of the spectrum as you can to shake up not just the corruption but the networks themselves. So you could go to Obama - maybe it would be even better to go to Kuchnich or the Perot party.

    In the end however I expect Hillary to win, easily, no matter what he you or I say.

    I guess being very good at picking elections makes me a political defeatist :)



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