Thursday, June 21, 2007

The corruption of the political process

OK, now if you do nothing else today, you ought to at least take a look at Lawrence Lessig's piece about why he is going to change direction in his academic work and activism.

For the past ten years or so, Lessig has been a leading light in the struggle to inject some common sense into the intellectual-property business. In particular, he has been one of those behind the Creative Commons movement. Now, however, he is going to focus on a new set of problems.

I won't try to summarise any more here; instead I will give you just a taster of how he is thinking, with the block quote below. (Passing comment: Lessig is not, in my opinion, the world's best prose writer; he could do with a good rewrite man at his side. But you will get the drift all right.)

As the Gowers Commission concluded in Britain, a government should never extend an existing copyright term. No public regarding justification could justify the
extraordinary deadweight loss that such extensions impose.

Yet governments continue to push ahead with this idiot idea -- both Britain and Japan for example are considering extending existing terms. Why? The answer is a kind of corruption of the political process. Or better, a "corruption" of the political process. I don't mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean "corruption" in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can't even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right. Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars.

As Lessig goes on to say, the problem has long been recognised; and indeed it has been mentioned here from time to time, though less lucidly analysed than in Lessig's statement. And for those who think this is exclusively a US problem: don't be so damn smug. The UK suffers just as badly: remember the Blair/Ecclestone business. Equally affected, I suspect, is every other western nation. As a problem, it makes the war on terror look minor.

Lessig, because of his background, couches his initial statement in terms of copyright. But it is just as relevant in relation to many other fields, such as global warming. Food is another example; and of that, more in a week or two, when I have got my thoughts together.

3 comments:

bhadd said...

Mr Fenman would like technology for publisher's staff I think. Payment has got us in dutch, privacy, less such.

MyUtopia said...

Isn't corruption and politics have the same meaning : )

Andy O'Hara said...

Amen!