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A TED Talk and Dis-Empowering the Elite

I saw a TED talk by Lawrence Lessig that got me to thinking.

I am going to disagree with everything Lawrence Lessig said by agreeing with 90% of what he said. I agree, we have a problem where a very small portion of the population exerts too much control over our government and that the interests of the tiny minority are often in conflict with the vast majority. However, I must disagree with two elements of Lessig’s talk: the origin of the problem, which he does not address, and the solution to the problem, which is a key piece to Lessig’s talk. I will expound upon those ideas later, however, because for now it is more agreement.

I further agree that it is disastrous to have our legislators so focused on earning money to be re-elected that they neglect what they are elected for in the first place (governing). I also think it is dangerous, as Lessig asserts, to have a political system where one can only enter into politics first having raised large sums of money. A political system where only the favorites of the elite can participate has time and again been seen to wreak havoc on nations.

Where I begin to disagree is not on the ‘what’; ‘what’ the problem is I think we are all in agreement, a form of soft corruption is the problem. Instead I disagree on the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.

The simple fact is this: as Reagan said, government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem. The problem of soft corruption is not the product of Supreme Court rulings or evil schemes by shady figures in smoke filled rooms; it is the perfectly logical result of self-interest and big government. When there exists a government large enough and powerful enough to not only choose economic winners and losers but to make them, then it becomes in the self-interest of everyone to bend that government to their will. And of course who is in the best position to bend government’s ear? Why the 1% of the 1% naturally. They have plenty of lawyers, accountants, lobbyists, and money to grant themselves special privileges and government favors. And of course they also have connections, as whenever you have a group as small as our present ruling class, everyone knows everyone else and before too long it becomes an incestuous circle of exchanging favors.

There is an internet proverb circulating around today; you are likely to see it graffitied on subway walls and park benches and the like. It goes “Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.” While I generally agree with this statement, I agree only with the half which is left unsaid. The proverb is left incomplete unless it is said: “Give a man a bank with a government, and he can rob the world.”

When $750 billion is handed out, it makes a $1 billion investment in election spending look like a spectacular profit margin. So long as we have a government with the powers necessary to make its own class of economic royalists, then we will have people trying to buy government. If we made government small again, if we returned it to a limited government of limited powers restrained by the Constitution, unable to gift people into wealth and unable to regulate people from wealth, then and only then will it no longer be in the self interest of “the Lesters” to buy elections.

-SL

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