Lawrence Lessig's Republic, Lost, Hachette Book Group, 2011, is a must read. "Government is an embarrassment. It has lost the capacity to make the most essential decisions. And slowly it begins to dawn upon us: a ship that can't be steered is a ship that will sink."
We as a nation have a dependency on the corruption of money in our political process. Dependency like the alcoholic's. "We have a gaggle of good souls who have become dependent in a way that weakens the democracy and we have a nation of good souls who see that dependency and assume the worst. The first flaw bends policy. The second flaw weakens the public's trust. The two together condemn the republic, unless we find a way to reform at least one."
Our Republic has been hijacked by a system run by money. Brtbes are no longer (for the most part) paid to people in Congress who keep safes for cash in their offices. Lobbyists control what happens in Congress. One way or the other, the need for money drives Congress. Up to 70% of a congressperson's time is spent on fund raising. Gifts are exchanged. Whether you are on the left or the right, you never will get your agenda considered unless you pay for it. "What both sides miss is that the machine we've evolved systematically thwarts the objective of each side . . . ." Change on the left is stopped by private interests and change on the right gets stopped because change might weaken the fund-raising machine. We, the people, are no longer in control.
Obama promised to change the system. Instead, he has joined in. Most Americans believe Congress is corrupt. Not in the old fashioned way. In a different way where contributions buy results. Only 11% of us have confidence in Congress. What more do we need to declare the institution bankrupt? This "corruption confirms the irrelevancy of democracy." We busy ourselves with our lives and we learn not to waste our time because we know Congress is not interested in us.
Like most worthy undertakings, the solutions are simple but difficult. In its simplest form, the solution is singular: make the funders of Congressional elections the people. Yes, you and me. Three states have done this with success in their local elections. Lessig lays out 4 strategies to change the system of electing our representatives. His favorite, in Chapter 20, has a better than 10% chance of working. (We'll address it in another blog.) The others, much less. It's easy to read this book as doomsday. But Lessig argues for hope. "Hopelessness is precisely the reason that citizens must fight."
Postscript: While we're musing about fixing things in Washington, D.C., here are a couple of suggestions.
First, pass the Fair Elections Now Act that almost made it through the House in 2010. "That bill would have allowed candidates to opt into a system that limited contributions to $100 per citizen, matched, after the candidate qualified, four to one by the government," Lessig notes.
Second, pass a Debt Reduction Surcharge on every taxpayer's gross income. No games, just a flat surcharge on everyone, graduated from .001 at the lower income levels to .01 at the upper end. Mandatory. No exceptions. An annual "tithe", with the collection applied to existing government debt. Voluntary for those with incomes under $50,000. For those souls who have signed the no tax pledge, belly up. This is not a tax, it's an annual surcharge to help stop the bleeding.