I go to see a lot of presentations, job talks, workshops, roundtables, symposia, colloquia and named lectures. Today, I was in the audience as Professor Lawrence Lessig delivered the David C. Baum Memorial Lecture on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and I walked away thinking how much I felt sorry for everyone that missed it. The title was The Other Side of Madison's Dilemma: When the Problem of Civil Rights Becomes the Problem of Minority Factions. The gist was that because .25% of "the people" finance 100% of congressional and presidential elections, would-be candidates have to bend themselves to those .25% ("the funders"). Not only do politicians heed the funders to get elected, but also while elected to secure post-politics employment. Though James Madison believed that the problem of minority factions would be outnumbered in a large society of the people, this theory doesn't hold true in a society of the funders.
I'm sure I'm not doing it justice, but I found a video of a version of this presentation here. Not only was the lecture substantively interesting, the presentation was amazing. At one point, I was convinced that Prof. Lessig was controlling the video with either his retinas or his brainwaves.
Prof. Lessig's novel solution would be "one person, one voucher," rebating $50 of federal tax (income, payroll, gasoline, etc.) to each citizen, which can be used to give to a campaign. Candidates would have to pledge to only use vouchers to receive any.
I did steal a response that I hope to use at my next paper presentation. When asked a question that was basically "how does your solution solve this other, vaguely related problem," Prof. Lessig replied, "First, let's talk about what the structure of a solution is."
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