Friday, January 27, 2012

Plato's Parmenides: Text, Translation & Introductory Essay / Arnold Hermann, tr. with S. Chrysakopoulou -- Las Vegas: Parmenides Pub., 2010

Plato's Parmenides is often said to be his most difficult dialogue. Consequently, my "reviewing" it here is likely to be of little help to any serious student of the work. Many far more qualified philosophers have tackled the work and come away with radically different ideas about its arguments and purposes. Nonetheless, I'll venture a short commentary, mostly for the personal benefit of recording my own understanding.

As difficult as it is (or perhaps because of its difficulty), the Parmenides offers the serious reader a transforming experience. Plato writes of a conversation mostly between Socrates and his older contemporary Parmenides. In most of Plato's dialogs, Socrates is the intellectual star, but here, Parmenides is the teacher. Broadly speaking, the Parmenides explores Plato's Theory of Forms and the metaphysical quandaries associated with them. Puzzling over arguments about unity, being, motion, time, likeness, and other fundamental metaphysical concepts pushes the reader to reflect on experience as one normally would not. Indeed, the similarity between the concentration that the Parmenides requires and meditation is striking.

Arnold Hermann's introductory essay provides a great deal of help for the novice. Arnold argues that the dialog is a demonstration that the forms cannot be considered in and of themselves, but that they are "interwoven" one with others and that they must be understood in the context of their application to the sensible world. If Arnold's understanding of the Parmenides is correct, it has a striking parallel in the Buddhist doctrine of the inter-relatedness of the objects of appearance. In the Parmenides Plato presents a series of apparently valid arguments for and against the forms having specific properties. This is similar to arguments in Buddhist scriptures for and against various ontological propositions. The conclusion that the Indian philosopher Nagarjuna draws from these arguments is that being is devoid of essence. All things of the world of appearance are impermanent or "empty." The manifold of the world arises only conditionally and in relation to all other things. Nagarjuna, however, goes a step further than Arnold to recognize a supreme truth or the emptiness (shunyata) that lies behind appearance, noting that it defies rational understanding and cannot be expressed in words, but only experienced directly by the enlightened. With Nagarjuna's conclusions in mind, it is not difficult to read the same ideas into the Parmenides, establishing two culturally independent formulations of the same metaphysical vision.

At least two other interpretations of the Parmenides also come to mind, however. First, it simply may be a critique of the Theory of Forms, with Parmenides taking Socrates through a series of reductio ad absurdum arguments. The simplicity of this interpretation is appealing; however, it seems unlikely in that early on in the dialog, Zeno and Parmenides tell Socrates that his explanation of the Theory of Forms is on the right track, but in need of refining.

If the Parmenides sought to provide a refined version of the Theory of the Forms, its positive contributions seem much less obvious than its critique. Pace Arnold, Plato may have intended to offer a refined version of the forms, but simply failed to complete this in the course of the dialog. That is, the Parmenides may be an unfinished work in which all that we have is the reductio ad absurdum. The constructive portion may have been lost in the course of time or Plato simply may have failed to produce the arguments he promised. This second interpretation would explain why the dialog is so difficult to understand.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being / Carol Graham -- Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2011

Economists have been measuring the gross national product and gross domestic product since the middle of the 20th century. These measures often are thought to indicate the "health" of the economy and moreover the aggregate well-being of the nation's people; however, almost as often, these conclusions have been challenged. In a speech on March 18, 1968, Robert Kennedy, now famously said that the gross national product
counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts...the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.
It is surprising, then, that it was only in the last 10-20 years that economists have begun seriously studying an alternative to GNP as a measure of social well-being. In The Pursuit of Happiness, Carol Graham reviews much of this literature and poses important questions as to how and whether happiness research can inform policy debates.

In the second chapter, Graham recognizes the difficulty we face in defining happiness. A number of similar concepts cloud the issue: well-being, satisfaction, contentment, and pleasures of various sorts are among many such concepts, and measuring them involves measuring a number of different factors: health, family, friendships, security, income, freedom, education, expectations, etc. Any of these factors can be complicated by temporary changes in a person's life circumstance. Furthermore, Graham plausibly asserts that individuals have different baseline dispositions toward happiness.

Graham distinguishes two significant forms of happiness recognized in the recent economics literature, hedonism and eudaimonism, roughly labeling them Benthamite and Aristotelian respectively. Labeling the former Benthamite is apt. It refers to simple pleasure or hedonic utility. The latter, while not completely mis-attributed to Aristotle, misses an important aspect of Aristotle's view of happiness. Graham first describes eudaimonia as related to "meaning" or "life evaluation," applying the cooncept to people who establish long-term plans and take steps to complete those plans. A critical component of this is "agency," or the ability to determine the outcome of one's life plans. As the work proceeds, agency becomes the tail which wags the dog in Graham's "Aristotelianism."

Certainly, Aristotle's notion of happiness involves agency. For Aristotle, a happy person is someone who exercises the uniquely human capacity of reason to shape the whole of his or her life; however, Graham's Aristotelian happiness underplays the importance of makarios, i.e., divine, or god-given happiness. Moreover, the etymology of eudaimonia combines the Greek words for "good" and "in dwelling spirit" -- a being halfway between the gods and humans (from which we get our word demon). For Aristotle, happiness, while it certainly is something we work to create by exercising our uniquely human reason, it is also something that happens to us; it is god-given or is a product of being possessed by a good demon. Furthermore, the highest happiness for a person is something that can be measured only after one's full life has been lived and one's posthumous reputation has been assessed. This is certainly a minor academic objection, but overlooking (or underplaying) Aristotle's concept of happiness in its fullness will lead the economics of happiness to policy agendas that overemphasize the autonomy of individuals and underemphasize true human needs.

To better understand policy goal options, one should distinguish three forms of happiness, Benthamite hedonism, Graham's Aristotelian eudaimonism (which might simply be called "liberty"), and the more fully Aristotelian happiness of a good life. Graham's review of happiness surveys makes reasonably clear that Benthamite hedonism is not an adequate policy goal. Our overall happiness requires more than obtaining day-to-day pleasures. By and large, we also require accomplishments that we can trace to our own choices and actions; consequently, we require the social conditions which are conducive to the exercise of our capacity to chose and pursue our own conception of a good life. We require, in the terminology of John Rawls, basic liberties; however, it is doubtful that this will be enough to promote happiness in its fullest sense.

Graham's title The Pursuit of Happiness comes, of course, from the American Declaration of Independence, indicating Carol's bias in favor of a liberal state -- one which is concerned with creating opportunities for happiness where the individual is at liberty to pursue whatever reasonable lifestyle he or she chooses as opposed to a state that seeks to equalize the outcome of the distribution of benefits and burdens. Such a liberal state is clearly an advance over an autocratic state which narrows the life choices of its citizens for the benefit of a ruling minority, but allowing over-wide latitude in life choices has three significant drawbacks. It may allow self-destructive natural temptations to compromise true human needs, it does not recognize the inability of citizens to be fully informed about the consequences of their choices, and it can result in what could be called happiness market failures.

Proper policy decisions might require a recognition that some conceptions of a good life might be objectively preferable to others and that our natures, circumstances, and rational individual actions may sometimes lead us away from the objective good. The remedy would seem paternalistic to the libertarian (or even to the classical liberal), but a way of life endorsed by state policy need not be particularly limiting and it could be justified by appealing to deep psychological and biological needs. Even John Rawls, for example, recognizes that his liberal principles of justice are only apropos to a society that has reached a certain level of development, but the question that Aristotle's view of happiness raises is whether a more communitarian society should be the object of public policy.

My own preferences would be largely to follow Rawls, and protect liberty and equal opportunity before establishing policies that would maximize basic goods for the least well off. As I argued in my dissertation, this alone will result in a fairly thorough-going egalitarianism. Still, I'm not entirely convinced that placing boundaries on the range of permissible conceptions of the good is only relevant for societies in deep poverty or to exclude unreasonable conceptions of the good. The Kantian notion of true human needs obviously applies to conditions of dire poverty, but I'm not entirely certain that it does not reach further into the lives of people who on first glance have all that they need. This is not to suggest that I am especially concerned about what Graham calls the plight of "frustrated achievers" or the "miserable millionaire." As far as I'm concerned, the misery of the millionaire is his or her own damn fault.

According to the happiness literature cited by Graham, an egalitarian society is more conducive to happiness than a society characterized by vast disparities of wealth and I would add that the egalitarian society more effectively respects the full dignity of persons. A truly happy society must provide for equality of opportunity, and mitigate tendencies toward unequal outcomes; but assuming these conditions, a deeper understanding of human nature and the nature of happiness might restrict conceptions of the good life beyond what would be chosen by people without full information, by people without a superhuman ability to withstand temptation, and by people who are not so selfless as to voluntarily accept limitation to avoid happiness market failures. Broadly expressed, an egalitarian society that ensures equality of opportunity may still need a degree of communitarian organization to respect the contours of human nature.

The third chapter of The Pursuit of Happiness is essentially a literature review of happiness economics. Its organization is somewhat confusing and it presents the findings without assessing the validity of the studies. Of course, to do so would have significantly enlarged the book, but at 164 pages (including notes and index), adding a bit more about the validity of the studies would have helped. Hopefully, Graham has carefully examined the studies and is only including those that are most reliable. In any case, one should be extremely cautious about accepting the conclusion of happiness surveys due to the complexity of the concept. Time and again, one is led to wonder if one or another confounding factor is really responsible for results attributed to the independent variable. Even more often, correlations are observed that may be merely a coincidental product of a large data set.

The fourth chapter is entitled, "Adaptation and Other Puzzles." Here Graham demonstrates a good understanding of the concerns that I have raised in this review. Graham understands, perhaps was well as anyone, the difficulties facing happiness economics.

The final chapter describes the how we might incorporate a "gross national happiness" measure into existing social and economic measures to provide a better understanding of the lives of people for making policy decisions. As difficult as measuring happiness is, a "GNH" measure would certainly be worthwhile, if only to de-thrown unlimited economic growth from our policy objectives.

Overall, The Pursuit of Happiness is a valuable contribution to an emerging field within economics. It will probably not become seminal, but hopefully it will prompt further discussion of its important topics.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Prophets of the Fourth Estate: Broadsides by Press Critics of the Progressive Era / Amy Reynolds and Gary Hicks -- Los Angeles: Litwin Books, 2012

In Prophets of the Fourth Estate, Amy Reynolds and Gary Hicks have given us a window on the relationships among money, politics, and the press during the Progressive Era in the U.S. or perhaps their window is really a mirror for our own times. Certainly, the book is first and foremost an excellent account of criticisms of the press in the Progressive Era, but the parallels to today are unmistakable.

The first chapter is a brief history of the politics of the Progressive Era. While it is true that important reforms were won by progressive political forces, regressive forces were not without accomplishments. The Progressive Era in politics was also roughly co-terminus with the regressive Lochner Era in American legal history during which the power of corporations became firmly entrenched for decades. Furthermore, the elections of William McKinley and the rise of the big money politics of Mark Hanna permanently transformed politics. Overall, the era saw a bitter political struggle between more or less equally powerful political factions that broke apart during the four-candidate presidential election of 1912. One aspect was largely progressive, though: the prominence of muckraking journalism, especially between 1903 and 1912. Reynolds and Hicks recall the work of Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, and Upton Sinclair, but also provides us with a more in depth account of the earlier work of Jacob Riis.

The primary focus of the work, however, is on the effect that advertising and other "controlling interests" have on newspapers, the lecture circuit, and their role in forming public opinion. The final chapter directly addresses propaganda and the rise of the public relations industry. Their analysis is based on a careful study of both secondary and primary material. Indeed, the most noteworthy feature of the book is the republication of media criticisms published during the Progressive Era. Prophets of the Fourth Estate provides us with the full text of articles by Charles Edward Russell, Robert L. Duffus, Morefield Storey, Oswald Garrison Villard, Donald Wilhelm, and Roscoe C. E. Brown.

The relevance of these articles to late 20th century media criticism is astonishing. One might think that the objects of the Progressive Era critics were Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, NPR, Talk Radio, the major city daily newspapers and most of our popular news magazines. This is both a strength and a weakness of the work, though. Prophets of the Fourth Estate provides valuable insight into a one hundred year period of the press in the U.S. How relevant the analysis is to "new media" is questionable. The basic principles that it exposes are likely, however, to be relevant to a new, contemporary analysis.

The finest analysis of the press in the 20th century is Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. In it they describe a propaganda model that is a natural creation of the private ownership of media and the commodification of information. Herman and Chomsky point out that the imperatives of the market require media corporations to present information or programing (including news) that is not dysfunctional to their profitability. To do this, publishing executives must accept a moral and economic world view that will not compromise the interests of stockholders. They must hire editors who will do the same, who in turn hire reporters of a like mind. Whatever information that results from these institutions can be thoroughly critical of any organization or sector of society except those upon which the media corporation is dependent.

Advertisers are particularly important. For a media corporation to succeed, it must attract advertising dollars. Consequently, presenting programing that will be attractive to businesses with a lot of money is critical. Finally, a well-heeled audience is the bedrock of the entire system. The product of media corporations are not newspaper copy or programing, it is the audience which they sell to advertisers. A large audience is important, but more important is the amount of disposable income that the audience commands. A large but impoverished audience can be less valuable to an advertiser than a smaller but much richer audience. Every element of the system works toward skewing the media's message toward what is compatible with consumer capitalism. Prophets of the Fourth Estate makes it clear that most of this was very well understood by a number of journalists in the Progressive Era. This may be the most significant difference between the late twentieth century and the Progressive Era: decades of institutional pressure have selected for journalist who are largely unaware of their conformity to the dictates of power.

Extending the analysis into the 21st century is, however, problematic. New media have created avenues through which critical voices can speak. Just as Facebook and Twitter have facilitated communication from and among democratic movements in the Middle East, they have helped coordinate actions of the Occupy movement and exposed brutal police responses. It has become commonplace to suggest that new media is and will become a leveling technology that will democratize political discourse. This may well be true, but it remains to be seen.

Two factors suggest that new media will be less destabilizing than is thought. First, while social media permits communication from and to countless people, the channels through which they communicate are increasingly narrow. The vast majority of messages sent over the internet are carried by Verizon, AT&T, and cable companies that have little competition, and of course Google dominates internet searches. The movement to guarantee "Net neutrality" is critical to keeping these corporations from obstructing free expression, but as internet communication will always be controlled by major corporations, it is likely that corporate America will be able to legislate "exceptions" to unrestricted speech, probably in the name of national security, cybersecurity, or the "war on terror," systematically eliminating threats to corporate power.

Second, while the internet may permit the proliferation of voices and an increase in the sheer amount of information available to the public, the time that the public has to assimilate this information will not expand. "Data smog" and on line distractions are an increasingly significant obstacle to gaining a deep understanding of the political world and the role of corporations in our lives and government. Under these conditions, organizations will need significant resources to mount effective communication campaigns, be they corporate or anti-corporate, giving clear advantage to plutocratic messages.

Prophets of the Fourth Estate is an extremely valuable analysis of the press of the 20th century. Whether we can glean from the last century the principles that allowed corporations to control the press and apply them to the 21st century is an open question.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Constitution 3.0: Feedom and Technological Change / Jeffrey Rosen and Benjamin Wittes, eds. -- Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2011

In 1928, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Olmstead v United States, a case arising out of the new wiretapping technology available to law enforcement. Attorneys for Olmstead argued that a government wiretap violated Olmstead's Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, but 5-4 majority of the Court found that as conversations were not tangible effects that could be searched or seized and as the government had not trespassed on Olmstead's property in placing the wiretap, no violation of the Fourth Amendment had occurred.

In contrast, Justice Brandeis's dissent rested on the observation that phone conversations often contained more information than sealed letters and that as the Fourth Amendment's intent was to protect the privacy of citizens, the Court should find that phone conversations deserve the same protection as mailed correspondences. It is fair to say that Brandeis was reading beyond the simple words of the Fourth Amendment, but it is hard to argue that Court should not have done exactly this. Justice Butler explained why in his dissent, writing "this Court has always construed the Constitution in the light of the principles upon which it was founded. The direct operation or literal meaning of the words used do not measure the purpose or scope of its provisions. Under the principles established and applied by this Court, the Fourth Amendment safeguards against all evils that are like and equivalent to those embraced within the ordinary meaning of its words."

The framers of the Constitution could not possibly have imagined the technological developments of the 20th century, and as these technologies directly bore on the values protected by the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court should have exercised its authority to interpret the Constitution and apply those values to present circumstances. The task of applying an 18th century document to unimaginable technologies has only become more problematic over the past fifteen years. Happily, Constitution 3.0 offers us a collection of essays exploring how emerging technologies might affect the core concepts in constitutional law, particularly how they might affect the interpretation of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The essays take up several rather narrow questions, but stand as a fine starting point for a longer discussion of the constitutional problems that 21st century technologies pose.

Constitution 3.0 is divided into four parts, covering surveillance and data mining, free expression and privacy, brain scan technologies, and genetic engineering. This review will only address parts one and two.

In Chapter Two, Christopher Slobogin observes that surveillance technology currently can track the public movements and record the on-going, daily activities of citizens. Such surveillance might not implicate the Fourth Amendment as it falls outside of the legal concept of a search. Slobogin argues that in response we must expand the concept of a search to reflect its ordinary language meaning and regulate government surveillance proportionate to its intrusiveness.

In Chapter Three, Orin S. Kerr responds to new surveillance technologies by noting that surveillance now involves a four stage process: evidence collection, data manipulation by a machine, disclosure to a person operating the surveillance program, and disclosure to the public. The "old law of surveillance" attempted to prevent the collection of evidence. Kerr argues that we should now be more concern about regulating each stage of the process as appropriate, particularly its dissemination, rather as the information collected by the I.R.S. is not available to the public.

In Chapter Four, Jack Goldsmith emphasizes the dangers to national security that new technologies pose and identifies numerous instances where unwarranted searches and invasive screening processes are permitted by the Court. While he recognizes that allowing unwarranted searches in a broader range of circumstance may seem unnecessary, he is concerned that "bits [of data] and strings [of code] can do, and are doing, enormous harm," thereby justifying "massive government snooping."

In Chapter Five, Jeffrey Rosen points out that more and more the questions of privacy and free speech are decided by private corporations, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, and Google. This poses a special problem for protecting Fourth Amendment values as the Amendment limits what governments actions and does not clearly reach private actors, particularly when the information gathered is voluntarily surrendered. Rosen suggests that technical solutions are available, but must be implemented by "regulators, legislators, technologists, and ultimately,...politically engaged citizens." We can not simply rely on the Court for relief.

In Chapter Six, Tim Wu describes two traditions of free speech. The first balances the value and significance of free expression against legitimate government interests. The second arose in the middle of the 20th century with the creation of an oligarchic national broadcasting system. The concern became finding ways in which more than a few voices could have a national audience. With the rise of the internet, it appears that this problem has been solved, but Wu points out that speakers are connected to their audiences by a small number of intermediaries, i.e., mainly, "Verizon, AT&T, the cable industry, and a handful of crucial switches, Google most obviously." Like Rosen, Wu is concerned about that constitutional issues are increasing implicating private actors and he is particularly concerned about the concentration of power within the sphere of private communications.

In Chapter Seven, Jonathan Zittrain discusses two problems arising from the concentration of content; (1) the potential that a private actor or government agency will effectively destroy unique content and denial-of-service attacks launched against particular content providers. He recommends in response a "mutual aid treaty for the internet," meaning that site operators would agree to download and store any page to which they link. If any of these sites suffer a denial-of-service attack, a version of the content that was most previously accessed could be displayed. While the downloaded pages might not be absolutely current, they would provide internet browsers with a reasonably up-to-date version of the content.

What is most interesting about these essays is that they grapple with values that often come into conflict: privacy and national security versus freedom of information and freedom of expression. These values have been in conflict since long before digital technology began changing our information environment, but the problems these conflicts pose have become far more profound. In the final essay, Lawrence Lessig points out that how future Courts will solve these problems will depend on a cultural climate that establishes unquestioned norms. Hence, the spread of private video recording devices and the willingness to participate in social media that record and disseminate personal information may make our concerns about privacy virtually vanish. It is through these changes in culture that the changes in technology will transform our Constitutional liberties.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop It / Lawrence Lessig -- N.Y.: Twelve, 2011

If I were to nominate a best book of 2011 it would be Lawrence Lessig's Republic, Lost. It is, as its subtitle declares, an account of how money corrupts Congress, and it provides a plan to escape this corruption. Lessig quite rightly recognizes that numerous public policy and governmental problems cannot be solved until we remove the undemocratic influence that big money has on our political system. Furthermore, big money in politics frustrates the policy agendas of both liberals and conservatives or, more accurately, the policy agendas of people with all manner of political philosophy. The only interests that our current system serves are those of corporations, politicians, and lobbyists. No book has made this case more persuasively than Republic, Lost.

The first 247 pages of Republic, Lost provides an extremely cogent and readable account of how money distracts Congress from the business of governing, distorts the representational character and agenda of Congress, and undermines the trust that citizens otherwise might have in government. The last 79 pages describe a system of publicly financing elections and discuss four strategies for rectifying the problem.

Most of the ills presented in the book are attributed to some form of corruption. Lessig differentiates "quid pro quo" and "dependence" corruption, but finer distinctions can be made. Quid pro quo corruption involves an illicit exchange of favors, e.g., campaign money or other favors expressly exchanged for a favorable vote. This is plainly illegal. Quid pro quo corruption is nothing less than bribery or extortion depending on which party to the transaction has more power or initiates the transaction. A weak member of Congress (in need of campaign cash) can be induced to accept a bribe in exchange for his or her vote. On the other hand, a powerful member of Congress can extort campaign contributions by threatening a negative vote. These forms of corruption usually grab headlines, but are probably quite rare.

The more problematic form of corruption is what Lessig calls, "dependence corruption." Lessig claims that the delegates to the 1787 constitutional convention intended to set up a government that was "dependent on the people alone;" however, with the massive influx of money into political campaigns and the growth of lobbying, members of Congress have become dependent on rich campaign financiers and corporate lobbyists. Conversely, corporations are subject to legislation and hence are dependent on legislators. Lessig's book is dedicated to exposing and eliminating this co-dependence. Like quid pro quo corruption, dependence corruption can come in two forms: "venal corruption" in which politicians are made subservient to corporations, and "systematic corruption" in which corporations are made subservient to politicians. Liberals, fearing big business, are concerned about venal corruption. Conservatives, fearing big government, are concerned about systematic corruption.

Notably, quid pro quo corruption takes place in a political economy in which votes are simply commodities to be bought and sold. In contrast, dependence corruption takes place within an economy in which contributions and votes function as gifts. Campaign contributors usually make their gifts freely and without expecting specific votes in return. Legislators usually cast their votes without expecting an immediate campaign contribution; but as in any gift economy, there is an expectation that recipients will eventually return the favor. If, over time, gifts are not reciprocated, they will stop coming. The connection between contributions and votes is certainly real, but it is too tenuous to be actionable in court.

Lessig aptly compares dependence corruption to a dance, but the metaphor is more illuminating if we extend it to quid pro quo corruption as well. Quid pro quo corruption is like a dance in which the partners touch one another. Dependence corruption is like line dancing, where the dancers coordinate their movements. Line dancing is legal as long as the partners do not touch each other. Nevertheless, anyone can see that the dancers are intentionally coordinating their movements. They are "shape-shifting" to ensure that they are getting and giving what is needed in the relationship.

Lessig portrays lobbyists as the middlemen in the co-dependent relationship. The enormous growth of the lobbying industry is a clear sign of the expansion of the problem. There were 175 lobbying firms in the early 1970s, but by 2011, there were more than 12,000 registered lobbyists. Furthermore, becoming a member of Congress is increasingly a stepping stone to a far more lucrative career as a lobbyist. Between 1998 and 2004, most former senators and more than 40% of former House members became lobbyists, making three to ten times their government salaries. Because of this, many legislators are not inclined to support any changes to the systems of campaign finance and lobbyist favors, lest they compromise their own careers.

Lessig is, however, at pains not to judge individual corporate donors, lobbyists, and legislators too harshly. He emphasizes that dependence corruption is a natural product of the praiseworthy gratitude that good people feel toward gift-givers. His view is that the moral obligation one feels to reciprocate a gift makes it virtually impossible for legislators, in particular, to avoid becoming sympathetic to well-healed gift-givers. Here, Lessig is adopting an amazingly generous attitude. A more demanding critic would expect legislators to rise above personal sentiments and would denounce participation in dependence corruption as a moral failing. Legislators ought to have a stronger sense of professionalism and impartiality. After all, the business of legislators is not to be polite to donors, but to protect the interests of their constituents. It should go without saying that more self-interested motives for returning favors are clearly unethical.

If there is anything lacking in Lessig’s analysis of the campaign finance corruption, it is that he largely has overlooked a crucial form of distortion that we might call “candidate selection bias.” Unlike quid pro quo and dependence corruption, candidate selection bias does not require immoral actions of any kind or degree; nonetheless, it significantly distorts Congress’s agenda and legislation. It prevents Congress from accurately representing the interests of the whole of the electorate. This form of distortion is a kind of Darwinian natural selection. It does not alter the votes of individual legislators. Instead, it determines the character of the legislature as a whole, well before any legislator takes his or her oath of office.

Candidate selection bias works as follows: given the enormous sums needed to win a primary and/or general election, only those candidates who raise a lot of money ever become "viable," at least for national or state-wide office. Those that are starved for cash simply will be removed from the political gene pool. In this way, rich campaign financiers are empowered to determine who will become viable candidates. Consequently, nearly every successful candidate will have a broadly pro-corporate political ideology. After being elected, legislators can act entirely conscientiously, but still, the result will be pro-corporate legislation. The only question will be which rich and powerful group the legislator will favor, and “the peoples' agenda” will be subordinated, if not completely disregarded.

Lessig understands this problem, but he does not give it a prominent place in his book and does not explicitly describe it until page 244. Even here he only points out that candidate selection bias will undermine our trust in government; he does not observe that it actually establishes a pro-corporate baseline for policy-making. Perhaps a better way to structure a critique of our system is to first note that the prevalence of private, high-limit (or no-limit) campaign funding means that nearly every successful candidate will hold a pro-corporate political philosophy. From there, dependence corruption will cement the legislator's allegiance to pro-corporate policies and particular corporate interests. Finally, the temptation to slip out of the gift economy and into quid pro quo bribery and extortion will be too much for at least some legislators.

Keeping bribery and extortion out of the system is clearly not enough, but neither is it enough to eliminate shape-shifting dependence corruption. To make our electoral process truly democratic (i.e., to give each person equal influence on public policy) we must also eliminate the candidate selection bias that creates a plutocratic baseline in our legislatures. Furthermore, to be successful in reforming the system we must demonstrate that our campaign finance system distorts democratic representation without immoral actions of any kind. If immorality is essential to our critique, then we will be forever distracted by quid pro quo corruption, and the subtlety and moral ambiguity of dependence corruption will insulate it from effective criticism.

In the final part of Republic, Lost, Lessig presents his proposal for eliminating corruption in our campaign finance system. He describes a method for publicly financing elections that he calls the “Grant and Franklin Project” and he offers four political strategies for implementing the plan. Lessig encourages readers to join (or create) a movement employing one or more of these strategies or to offer a better strategy.

Under the Grant and Franklin Project, each voter would be given a $50 voucher to donate to candidates of his or her choice. All $50 could be given to a single candidate or divided between several candidates. Voters may supplement their voucher donations with private contributions of no more than $100 per candidate. For candidates to receive voucher money, they must agree to limit any private donation to their campaign to $100. Lessig believes that this proposal would pass constitutional muster and would create a pool of campaign financing that would successfully compete with corporate-funded candidates. This seems quite likely. Were a candidate for the Senate to receive twenty thousand $50 vouchers, she or he would have a million dollars to wage a campaign. As allocating one's voucher costs the voter nothing, it is likely that plenty of money would flow to popular candidates who do not necessarily have support among the traditional wealthy campaign financiers. Clearly, those benefiting from the current system will not want the new electoral competition that this will engender and so will not get on board with this plan. Implementing the Grant and Franklin Project will require unconventional political strategies.

Lessig offers four strategies. (1) Lobby Congress to pass a law mandating the system. This is a conventional method which Lessig believes has no chance of success. (2) Mount primary challenges to be conducted until the incumbent commits publicly to supporting publicly financed elections. There is actually a bit more to this strategy, but its main goal is to create political threats sufficient to persuade incumbents to support campaign finance reform. (3) Mount presidential primary bids in both parties with the promise that if elected the new president would "hold the government hostage" until Congress enacts effective campaign finance reform. Once the reform is enacted, the president would resign. (4) Mount a movement to convene a constitutional convention that will require publicly financed elections. Lessig does not believe any of these strategies has much chance of success, but he holds out the greatest hope for strategy (4). He believes some combination of all but the first would be advisable.

Lessig invites his readers to think of addition (better) strategies. In response, I would suggest a modification to his second strategy. (2a) Mount serious campaigns for state and county legislative seats based on strict campaign finance restrictions. Candidates running for office would voluntarily agree to limit contributions to no more than $100 and would accept contributions only from people (not corporate persons) residing within the district they seek to represent. Furthermore, if elected, they would promise to accept no gifts from lobbyists. For most state and county offices, these restrictions would not prevent the candidate from raising the same amount of money that is normally raised for such seats and they would have the further advantage of highlighting the embarrassing sources of their opponents' campaign funding. Many such “low limit” candidates would actually win office and be positioned to press for genuine campaign finance reform on a state-by-state basis. Additionally, their campaigns would dramatically highlight the issue of campaign finance. Where ballot access laws are progressive enough to run independent and third-party candidates, voluntary low limit candidates could run in the general election. Above the level of state legislative candidates, candidates could adopt the same restrictions, though we should not expect electoral success. Their candidacies would mostly publicize the campaign finance issue.

In Lessig's strategy (2), candidates mounting primary challenges announce in advance that they are running not to be a politician or to take office, but to pressure other candidates to support publicly financed elections. I think his point here is that by running, but not actually seeking office, the candidate assures voters that he or she is not simply going to become another corporate politician, but it is hard to imagine that many voters would choose to vote for such a candidate. Announcing in advance that one is merely a protest candidate is a sure-fire way of being ignored by all but a small minority of protest voters, and dropping out of the race on the mere promise by an opponent to support publicly financed elections will certainly defeat the strategy. Broken promises are a dime a dozen in politics. A more potent challenge to incumbents would come from candidates who truly are campaigning for office while abiding by the strict campaign finance restrictions outlined in my strategy (2a) above. Such candidates can assure voters that they will not become dependent on big money and, once elected, they will have every reason to work to pass campaign finance rules that will level the playing field. Genuine reform candidates must be genuine candidates and must walk the walk. They must seek to replace big money candidates, while remaining consistent with their principles. Otherwise, we should deny them our votes.

My proposed strategy need only succeed enough to bring publicly financed elections to a notable number of states before campaign finance would become a significant national issue. Certainly, if a large state (e.g., California, New York, Texas, or Florida) adopted publicly financed elections, it would become a viable national issue, increasing the likelihood that one of Lessig's strategies might work. At very least, democracy would begin to grow in specific states, and all the various local, low limit campaigns would generate experienced, pro-reform politicians who could advance to national office, creating yet more possibilities for campaign finance reform.