Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Review: Republic Lost

I had Lawrence Lessig's recent book, Republic, Lost on my to-read list for some time. However, after hearing that he narrated the audio version, I snapped it up in prep for a recent road trip. Lessig is a fantastic speaker and in general I believe that audio books narrated by their authors are better than those narrated by others.

Best known in the tech community for his work on copyright & Creative Commons, Lessig turned his attention a few years ago to corruption in government. Republic Lost is his first full-length book on that subject.

It is an important book that I highly recommend reading, though I can't promise you'll find it uplifting. It's downright depressing in parts. Solutions are offered but the author is the first to admit that they have very slim chance of working and that without them things will only get worse.

The main point of the book is that government (and he focuses on Congress in particular) is corrupt, and that this corruption is not so much the corruption of individuals but rather a systemic corruption that makes it impossible even for honest politicians to succumb to it.

What makes it a unique work is that Lessig, in his usual style, provides what to me anyway seems like a near-bullet-proof breakdown of his argument. I fail to see how someone, in the face of all he argues, could deny the systemic corruption exists or hast the effect it does.

Lessig provides a number of options on how it could be addressed, ranging from the likely-possible-but-minimal-impact (e.g. everyone should post/tweet every example of such corruption they see) to the high-impact-but-near-impossible (hold a constitutional convention for campaign finance reform). He himself acknowledges that most of his solutions have a very slim chance of working, but as he also puts it, what choice do we have but to fight?

Personally, I'm going to do three things: First, I'm going to read more on the subject and post when I see good examples, per Lessig's recommendation above. Secondly, I'm going to give some money to his organization, RootStrikers. Finally, I'm going to recommend this book to others, which is what I'm doing here. Go read it. It's important.

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress--and a Plan to Stop It

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'll have to give the book a read (or listen). One thing I find ironic having clicked on the link to the RootStrikers website is this quote:
"The result: The upper 1% have done well. The other 99% of us have been left behind. And now we've reached a breaking point."
The problem with that quote (and similar abuses) is that there's an underlying assumption that at any one time you can identify the 1% and the 99% and they stay the same. But looking historically, the top 1% changes from year to year (with a few exceptions). And specifically in the area of income, those who are in the tops 1% in their 50's/60's and up were often in the bottom 1% when in their 20's.

Statistics is a nasty game when abused -- which it often is. And you "missed" that, right? It's just that your assumptions aligned with Lessig's in this case.