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Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Quixotic campaign of Lawrence Lessig

Those of us who are looking at the wreck of the corrupt Con known as Reaganomics and it's half sister parasite that tried to take over the Keynesian movement (Neo or New Keynesianism) know that for 40+ year a multiplicty cons have nearly wrecked the world as well as the economics field. Part of this election's task is to dump the con economic arguments out of our party and restore some sanity to the political debate. The other part is to dump the overt corruption that has taken over much of our political process; the return of yellow journalism, monopolies owning whole networks and corrupt politics as a result of the influence of the monopolists. Lawrence Lessig is a middle tier wealthy lawyer who threw his hat in the race for what he says:

"I'm a ‪#‎winteriscoming‬ sort. I believe, in the words of Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein, that "the country is squandering its economic future and putting itself at risk because of an inability to govern effectively." I believe, moreover, that our "inability to govern" is tied fundamentally to the way we've permitted our representative democracy to be corrupted. It is, in my view, the vast political inequality that we have allowed to creep within our system that produces the systemic failure of our government to be responsive to Americans. (And for the data about that gap, begin with the extraordinary work of Martin Gilens and Ben Page. We will only have a government that works if we address that fundamental political inequality." [HuffPost]

Political Inequality and What to do about it

He continues:

"That inequality (political inequality -- I'm not talking here about wealth inequality) manifests itself along many dimensions. The one I've work on most is the way we fund campaigns. Whatever else a system in which 400 families contribute 1/2 the money to political campaigns in this election cycle so far is, it is unequal. And it should surprise no one that such a system produces politicians focused on their funders first -- even when the views of their funders, as Paul Krugman has recently so powerfully described, conflicts with the view of their voters. The system, in the words of Elizabeth Warren, is rigged because of this inequality. Our first task should be to remedy this inequality. Or in the words of the slogan that tests best: Fix Democracy."

How to Fix Democracy?


"If you're among the 82 percent who agree "the system is rigged," the question is not what you think about my proposal in the abstract. The question is comparative: How does my proposal stack up to the proposals of others? Whose is more likely to succeed, and at what cost?"

His solution???

"My commitment is to get Congress to enact the Citizen Equality Act of 2017, and then to resign."

Obviously this is a Quixotic candidacy. Lessig isn't serious about becoming President. What he's really dealing with is an issue that would require electing someone to the House, or better to the Senate, to champion it. His candidacy is obviously a publicity stunt. But, again, somebody like this needs to be at the primary debates. Not because he's a serious candidate but because he has a serious idea.

Injecting Citizen Controls into our system

The idea of exposing proposed legislation to Referendum is one idea among many that is necessary in order to reign in the features of oligarchy that tend to emerge in any system over time. We hire police to enforce the law among common people but the moment you raise up a person to an office. Be that person a hereditary aristocrat, a temporary aristocrat (literally -- raised up to rule), a bureaucrat (subject to hierarchy and complex rule of law), or a pure tyrant (governing for "private, separate advantage") the question is "who will watch the watchers." As we have seen with public corruption and police abuse, giving people power doesn't guarantee they'll execute their duties virtuously. Republican forms are meant to guarantee that the people as a whole "Res Publica -- our thing" have a say in what the government is up to. Light and transparency are tools of sanitation in government as well as in cleaning homes. "Referendums" are a great idea and part of a suite of reforms our country needs all over. But for one person to champion one idea, alone, is Quixotic. We need a movement.

The Elephant in the Room

What has torpedoed reform throughout history has been two factors; group politics (human ego) and "the Blind Man and the Elephant" quality of human enterprise. A good example is Bernie's plank, which I have talked about before. It has 11 (or 12) great points on it, and he gives great campaign speeches about them and they are 11 or 12 really good ideas. But he left off Civil Rights "Black Lives Matter" off his list and had angry young people interrupting his speeches as a result. It takes a movement. And the more you incorporate the myriad separate interests of the passionate but often tunnel vision focus of the people in the room the less focused you are. That is because all of us in the USA (including our enemies but for now I'm talking about Democrats) are like Blind men (or in some ways like blind fleas) in a room with one gigantic ineffable elephant. In this case the "elephant in the room" is uncontrolled and corrupt "private separate advantage" power. The easiest thing to do would be to shoot the elephant -- but that might kill all of us. Some people think the problem is the elephant is defecating on them. For others he provides food and shelter. We really don't want to kill that elephant. But to reform it we need to work together. We need to do this to understand what we are dealing with. Bernie can't do it alone. We need at least 230 House members and 60 Senators if any of Lessig's ideas are to happen. And to make that happen we need a movement.

How Ego Torpedos the best of Intentions

It is humorous, however, how these tunnel vision understandings of the elephant become passionate disagreements. And Lawrence Lessig, who was one of Bernies advisors, by forming his own campaign is illustrating the power of personal ego to torpedo the best laid plans of movements:

“Citizen equality can’t just be one issue on a list. It has to be the first issue — the one change that makes all other changes believable,” Lessig wrote in the memo, obtained by POLITICO. “For the first time in forever, the Wall Street Journal reports this issue is at the top of voters’ mind. You need to be the leader who makes it top of your platform as well.” [Read more: Politico]

So Lessig is deserting Sander's to run against him because he has one issue that he thinks is more important than all the others. Enter human ego. Lessig must be standing near the wrong part of the World Elephant. (Near the Tail?)

Enter Eric C. Jacobson and "Billionaires for Bernie"

Jacobson is supporting a movement he initially called "Billionaires for Bernie. He posted a Facebook comment directed at Lessig:

"Larry: A sensible alternative (which is also legally feasible now that you are no longer on speaking terms with Senator Sanders and his campaign personnel -- so long as it remains that way) is to convert the funds you have raised into a superPAC in support of both Bernie Sanders' candidacy and the candidacies of "little Bernies" who are exploring candidacies or actually running for lesser offices in 2016." [ECJLA Post]

It takes a movement.

Jacobsen writes in an article in the Indy News:

"Ironically, given his 1960s pedigree and political independence, Sanders’ substance is merely the honest mainstream Democratic political discourse and platform of yesteryear – in the mold of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. But that is more than enough to put Sanders FAR out-of-step with virtually all of today’s elected Democratic pols. For at least 4 decades the vast majority of Democratic politicians have been eagerly (they might say “pragmatically”) doing the Republicans’ “dirty work” for them on one score after another"

He then lists the outcomes:

  • Reverse Robin Hood economic policies producing evermore extreme inequality? Done!
  • I call it "Sheriff of Nottingham economic policies -- but it's the same thing.

  • Paramilitary domestic policing except in affluent areas, mass incarceration, the world’s largest prison-industrial complex and “the New Jim Crow”? Done!
  • We've replaced volunteerism and militia (both Democratic institutions) with standing armies of soldiers who call themselves police in many places.

  • De-unionize the private sector in America? Done!
  • Right to "Not Work" laws.

  • Create (without the public’s consent) a Frankenstein’s monster “one-world economy” that offshores millions of American jobs, and subjects U.S. workers (at all levels beneath the 1%) to wage competition from billions of capable but poor Chinese and Indians – and from excessive legal and illegal immigration? Done!
  • Through one bait and switch set of treaties after another.

  • Foreign wars of aggression and plunder (Iraq)? Done!
  • And like all wars, people are recruited on the prospect of horrible alternatives, and go off to fight thinking that some of the benefits of the pirates will trickle down to them. Which they don't.

Tory Mood 3 Fingered Lessons

Essentially since 1947 we've been in an increasingly Tory mood. Instead of "God, Queen and Loot" the American Version has been "God, Ronald Reagan, and loot." Instead of open colonization we have international conglomerates who see the whole world as a colony. And whether our parties call themselves Democrats or whigs, Republicans or Fascists, the politics of inclusion and commonwealth was replaced with the politics of fear, warfare and oppression. Like the Tories who ran Britain from the 1800's til the 20th century they don't have to call themselves Tories to effectively undermine their own constituencies. They merely have to use the tools of rhetoric, demagoguery and propaganda at their disposal -- and to promise that loot will trickle down from the looting. These are confidence games. They first convince you they are on your side. That you will benefit at the expense of "those others" and then once the trap is baited they'll spring it. It's not new folks. In Britain such confidence Schemes result in the knighting of the former head of the Labor Party, Tony Blair, and a Labor party that no longer represents labor. In the USA the result is a Democratic party that thinks that FDR style Democrats can't possibly be Democrats because they despise the mainstream of the party! The result is that we have states where the Democrats still dominate, but where the policies and rhetoric aren't that much different anyway. The behavior of the political authorities in Ferguson Missouri was as shameful as anything the GOP is doing in other states.

The points that Jacobson and Lessig are making are that reform needs to happen in the Democratic Party. But I would submit that the problem is cultural and three fingered. In 1938 most folks identified with the out of work and homeless. By 1948 most folks were feeling comfortable but scared to death of the Atom Bomb.

"Since the day FDR died almost all elected Democrats have gradually made the same right-ward journey as Ronald Reagan did, albeit in slightly slower motion. Rather than fighting for traditional liberal policies and values they have switched sides: from labor to management, from consumer to producer, from oppressed to oppressor, from everyday people to elites."

It's not just elected Democrats, the people of the party have also been shifting in various directions. If we shifted rightward on economic issues, the party has gone back and forth on social issues and made progress on Civil Liberties. Labor has been mesmerized by "God, Abortion and Guns" (GAG). Liberals have divided into one issue camps. And anyway, Roosevelt's economic reforms pretty much excluded "brown people," so the paradise of the 30's never really existed. Bernie was reminded of that the other day. It's not all gloom and doom. But there is a heck of a lot of ego involved. And the people pointing their fingers at Hillary need to realize that reform starts with OURSELVES.

I like Bernie. I like Hillary. If the Democratic party has moved to the right since 1947, that process was emergent while FDR was still alive. FDR was a naturally conservative person. He was convinced to support the creation of Social Security by a Woman advisor who overcame his cultural prejudice to what he called "The Dole." He tried to balance the budget after the first round of depression seemed licked and the economy started recovering from it's recession -- and that effort just sent the economy back into recession. He was no more a saint than Henry Wallace or Harry Truman. Henry Wallace was deposed in 1944 because the Right Wing of the Democratic party knew FDR was going to die. Bernie has had the luxury of sticking to Principles. Hillary and her husband have tried to tack into the wind. Jacobson's list is true, but Democratic politicians went along with the GOP agenda partly because ego fights like the one between Bernie and Lawrence Lessig have prevented clarity in the arguments against them. And of course Democratic party professionals go where the money dictates. And the money has been moving steadily right.

People forget that Bill Clinton's first term as Governor of Arkansas was that of a reformer pushing an agenda similar to Bernies. He soon found himself in the wilderness. You have to work together. WE have to make our case. Government my referendum is no panacea. For every good proposition California has had there have been ones like proposition 13 that caused more evil than good. The only way to create good government is for politicians to lead as well as follow the winds, and for us to develop an informed electorate. We need reforms such as those suggested by Lessig. And I think that Jacobson is groping for the right direction too. What we really need is a strong light to shine on the system so we can see where it is broke and how to fix it. To do that we need to challenge big money. Jacobson is trying to enlist big money in that effort. I wish him luck.

Further Reading and Sources

Lessig: Huffington Post Article: The Question for My Critics>

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