Lawrence Lessig at the Kellogg School of Management

lessiglectureYesterday, Lawrence Lessig spoke at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Lessig is like the Elvis Presley of the nerd universe; a rock star of the highest order.

I don’t need to run down his resume… if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve heard of Lessig before.  You probably know that we have him (and others) to thank for the sanity of Creative Commons licensing.  Creative Commons has greatly contributed to the explosion of remix culture that’s become so emblematic of the early 21st Century.

While best known for his work on intellectual property law, Lessig said he’d changed his focus over the last year and a half to focus on the problem of corruption in public institutions like governments.  Valuable work.

What did he have to say?

  • When money gets involved, trust is damaged. Consider Consumer Reports, for instance.  Most people find their product reviews more objective, more trustworthy, because they don’t accept advertising money.
  • Government suffers from a crisis in trustworthiness because of the degree that money influences elections. Let’s face it; the guy with the biggest bankroll pretty much always win.  Consequently, we’re ruled by rich, white, plutocrats.
  • The way out of this trap is to dramatically overhaul the way that elections are funded. Lessig said that possibly the only way to do this thouroughly and transparently was to take corporate donations and lobbyists out of the equation by mandating that elections be funded either by small donations from individuals (ala President Obama) and a system of public funding by using tax dollars to finance credible campaigns.

He pointed the audience to, and recommended that we all go “on strike” by refusing to donate to any political campaign that accepts corporate donations or money from lobbyists.

He’s a smart guy — I really hope that he can make a difference on this issue, but honestly, the pragmatist in me isn’t hopeful.

Tangentially, he’s an absolutely excellent speaker, and his presentation was quite inspiring.  If you should happen to have a chance to see this guy talk, I definitely suggest you go out of your way for it.  It was well worth the time.