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Lawrence Lessig on Institutional Corruption

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Previous FORAtv comments:
Netra Avatar
Posted: 12.12.09, 06:23 PM
Regarding the comment: "Public funding of political campaigns attracts candidates who favor welfare dependence, and repels independent thinkers from public institutions." It is exactly the opposite. When a candidate gets campaign funding from the Office of Elections, the Office must give it to any candidate who has followed whatever rules they have set up (X number of signatures etc.) Even if the candidated openly criticizes the government, it has no choice to deny funding. However, if the same candidate goes agains the wishes of campaign donars - no more $. The job of a candidate or legislator is to make policy that will benefit the people as a whole, not special interests. Because the increasing consolidation of wealth in the hands of a few, they are who can afford to donate to a candidate. Obama got a lot of public support, and I think a lot of those people are now questioning who he actually answers to...
Netra Avatar
Posted: 12.12.09, 06:16 PM
I agree, we need to systematiclly change the structure of the above orgainzations such that the profit motive has an appropriate place - to promote industry. But that there is also a balance where it doesn't destroy health (see Sicko), nutrition and agriculture (see Food Inc.) and Education (No Child Left Behind). It will take strong and brave legislators (I volunteer) and educated citizens to accomplish this.
scamper Avatar
Posted: 11.21.09, 09:29 PM
institutions = corruption. I hate to break it to you, but that is reality. As much as corporations might buy polcies. So to do bureaucrats, public 'servants', teachers, police officers... who all have their own interests. I mean how is Exxon Mobil lobbying to keep its profits up any different that police officers or prison guards or lawyers who work to keep up the war on drugs. Police officers, prison guards unions, lawyers... know their bread is buttered by the drug war. So they will lobby hard and push to keep the profits in their industry. It's amazing how people tend to miss this. The 'profit' motive of corporations is found in teachers, police officers, bureaucrats, law makers... By creating any institutions with the power of government, you automatically create corruption. Those in the institution or access to the institution will use it to benefit themselves. The only real way to limit corruption is to limit the powers of institutions.
David P. Hochman Avatar
David P. Hochman
Posted: 11.04.09, 08:16 PM
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. Prof. Lessig shares distasteful examples of institutional corruption, and then proposes to institutionalize and legitimize flavors of corruption that are more palatable to people funded by (and unaccountable to) taxpayers and tuition-payers, the "privileged", and "the good people" (wink, wink ... you know who you are). Public funding of political campaigns attracts candidates who favor welfare dependence, and repels independent thinkers from public institutions.
Raptoreyes Avatar
Posted: 11.03.09, 08:42 AM
I am going to respond directly to Alan McCrindle's comment above. The conservative movement (defined as an uneasy alliance of religious groups and libertarians) is largely an outgrowth of sectors of society that consider the conceptual framing of Liberals to be pathological. The economist F.A. Hayek put it elegantly by proving, that the amount of information available to a remote decision making elite (Washington or the statehouse) is typically insufficient to take into account all the knowledge available to those who carry out those decisions. ( source link ). Such profs of the insufficiency of large centralized institutions was further particularized by Nassim Nicholas Talieb in his books Fooled by Randomness and the Black Swan. Long before scientific suspicion of central planing emerged, historians and scholars had host of examples to choose from of societies who destroyed themselves by attempting to concentrate decision making to a few individuals. The Founders of the United States Constitution, after all organized the nation as a Republic with numerous checks and balances and organizing the branches of government (executive, legislative, Judicial and local) to be antagonistic to each other. This organization was largely the brain child of those who having read the horrific history of direct democracy, saw quite clearly that majority rule over the minority could lead to tyranny or mismanagement, with as much ease as it does in repressive autocracies. Even with an incentive structure that Lawrence Lessig himself would laud, ghastly mistakes would flow out of putting too many decision making powers/prerogatives in the hands of too few office holders, (too little brainpower applied to too many variables) too far removed from the effect of their decisions (poor feedback mechanisms when policies create disasters the leadership can tolerate or ignore). Incentives are of course part of the problem, but the main most intractable problem is that knowledge is best applied locally and independently then remotely and centrally. Much that is true of governments, is also true of any and all large organizations, that for whatever reason are protected from death when they make fatal mistakes. Governments are full of smart people that end up making dumb collective decisions because governments no matter the form, can extract taxes by force, to one extent or another. Nothing will lower ones effective leadership ability more reliably then to have ones job insulated against the consequences of bad decisions. This "insulation" against punishment in the marketplace always comes at the expense (money legally stolen via taxation) of those who DID make good decisions. Thus those with political pull or political office have an implicit incentive to continue making bad decisions, since such decisions cause no negative consequences. Worse still is the effect on those who make good decisions, who are punished via excessive taxes, to keep bad decision makers afloat. Such productive individuals often keep their operations small enough, to avoid notice from a centralized authority and willingly live as outlaws, rather then legally live as serfs of (inescapably) ignorant masters. By failing to punish those who make bad decisions with a loss of income and social status, you must necessarily punish those who DID make proper decisions. Conservative and libertarian mistrust of government (and of industries protected by government funding) is actually based upon a solid (if highly anecdotal) foundation of historical outcomes and data. No amount of of loose talk of "framing and the conceptual metaphor" can afford to ignore the eventual outcomes of "liberal" (IE socialist, communist or fascist) social organization, over long periods of time. In other words, any social organization that centralizes decision making, in a single city(Rome, Washington, Moscow) or with a few anointed/insulated intellectuals will of necessity come to ruin, regardless of how good a job of "framing the issues". Long term results matter more then the sympathies of intellectuals. The Roman Empire, Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Communist China (before Deng Xaopong), most all unlimited democracies and monarchies, and most other autocracies through history, experience terrifying/tragic outcomes, precisely BECAUSE a few "philosopher kings/nobles/councils" can and did run things, over the objections of all other interests. On the other hand, in all periods and places where centralized control was limited enough, to allow local creativity, but strong enough to enforce only basic social order, (a "Goldilocks" zone of optimal sociability) did humanity flourish. Renaissance Europe, The Ancient Roman Republic, the United States from 1776-1913, enjoyed spectacular outcomes both on the individual and governmental level. History has replayed the same results to the two basic experiments (unlimited government vs limited government) over and over again and the comparative results are nearly always the same. Its simply too bad that the stone age construction of the human mind with its natural dominance hierarchies and drug like effects upon those who achieve dominance over others, makes sub optimal autocracies the default state of mankind... with limited government being something that tends to emerge under difficult conditions, in spite of its stellar historical performance record.
Alan McCrindle Avatar
Alan McCrindle
Posted: 11.02.09, 12:47 AM
This look like it is going to be a great project - I can hardly wait to see the data. I wonder however how much impact the results will have even if they indicate wide spread corruption and loss of public trust in institutions. One of the reasons I am circumspect is the findings of George Lakoff in his study of framing and the conceptual metaphor, and how this translates into different world views and hence different values and beliefs. One of his key observations is that "liberals" assume that if the "facts" are identified and laid in front of people this will be sufficient cause for change. This is extremely naive in his view. Conservative think tanks have invested many years and many millions of dollars to capture the conceptual metaphor spaces and are masters of framing issues according to metaphors which favour their agendas. As an example, conservatives generally have a low opinion of government and a high opinion of business. I am sure that the conservatives will do everything in their power to maintain the corruption and will play on this distrust of government and trust of business.