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The USA is Lesterland

By Lawrence Lessig

Building upon his TED talk (now with more than 1.2 million views), The USA is Lesterland captures the argument of the talk, and fills it out with detail and a clear way forward.

As Lessig describes, the key to the system of corruption that has now wrecked our government is the way candidates for Congress raise money to fund their campaigns. Members of Congress and candidates for Congress spend anywhere between 30% and 70% of their time raising money to get themselves elected or their party back in power. But they raise that money not from all of us. Instead, they raise that money from the tiniest fraction of the 1%. Less than 1/20th of 1% of America are the “relevant funders” of congressional campaigns. That means about 150,000 Americans, or about the same number who are named “Lester,” wield enormous power over this government. These “Lesters” determine this critical first election in every election cycle—the money election. Without them, few believe they have any chance to win. And certainly, neither party believes it can achieve a majority without answering the special demands these “funders” make. Our Congress has thus become dependent upon these funders. In this sense, we are now “Lesterland.”

This dependency, Lessig argues, is a “corruption” of the system our framers designed. Our Congress was to be “dependent on the People alone.” “Alone” and by “the People,” the framers meant, as Madison described, “the rich, nor more than the poor.” But instead of this exclusive dependence upon all of us, we have allowed our Congress to develop a different and conflicting dependence upon “the funders” of their campaigns. That conflicting dependence corrupts the framers’ design.

This corruption is not partisan. Both parties are responsible for allowing it to evolve. Yet neither principled Democrats nor principled Republicans gain from this corruption. The only interests who gain are the special interests which exploit this new funding dependency to bend our government away from the public interest and towards their own.

Only we, the People, can end this system of corruption. And we can only do this through extraordinary intervention in the way our politics works. This book maps a plan, updating the argument Lessig made in Republic, Lost (2011). The argument is essential, yet hopeful, as we still have the power to reclaim this Republic.

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Podcast Edition

Organized by chapter, in this free podcast, Lessig reads The USA is Lesterland himself. As only an author can, his narration gives emphasis and emotion to this important argument, as he brings a otherwise esoteric question down to the ground. Regardless of your politics, the corruption that Lessig describes is the first issue that we, as a People, must solve. This short book describes the first essential steps.

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Republic, Lost

Lessig's previous book, Republic, Lost, is now available for download as a PDF. Click here to download the book, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license. You can also buy the print edition from IndieBound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

In an era when special interests funnel huge amounts of money into our government—driven by shifts in campaign-finance rules and brought to new levels by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—trust in our government has reached an all-time low. More than ever before, Americans believe that money buys results in Congress, and that business interests wield control over our legislature.

With heartfelt urgency and a keen desire for righting wrongs, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig takes a clear-eyed look at how we arrived at this crisis: how fundamentally good people, with good intentions, have allowed our democracy to be co-opted by outside interests, and how this exploitation has become entrenched in the system. Rejecting simple labels and reductive logic—and instead using examples that resonate as powerfully on the Right as on the Left—Lessig seeks out the root causes of our situation. He plumbs the issues of campaign financing and corporate lobbying, revealing the human faces and follies that have allowed corruption to take such a foothold in our system. He puts the issues in terms that nonwonks can understand, using real-world analogies and real human stories. And ultimately he calls for widespread mobilization and a new Constitutional Convention, presenting achievable solutions for regaining control of our corrupted—but redeemable—representational system. In this way, Lessig plots a roadmap for returning our republic to its intended greatness.

While America may be divided, Lessig vividly champions the idea that we can succeed if we accept that corruption is our common enemy and that we must find a way to fight against it. In Republic, Lost, he not only makes this need palpable and clear—he gives us the practical and intellectual tools to do something about it.

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