Republic, Lost | Lawrence Lessig

Summary of: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It
By: Lawrence Lessig


The book ‘Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It’ by Lawrence Lessig reveals the corrupting influence of money on the US political system. While democracy is based on the principle of every citizen having equal representation, a significant portion of campaign funds is controlled by a small percentage of the population, resulting in an unequal system. The book delves into how the cost of campaigns has skyrocketed, forcing politicians to spend more time raising funds and leading them to adopt more extremist positions to secure donations. Lessig also discusses the revolving door between Congress and lobbying, as well as the complex and unfair tax code that arises from the corrupt system.

Money and American Democracy

America’s political system is corrupt and unequal due to the corrupting influence of money. Money has become the most significant predictor of election success, with just .02% of the US population picking who runs for office. This has resulted in a system dominated by the rich and a collapse in the ability to govern. The article discusses the impact of money on campaigns, how it affects who runs for office, and how it leads to special interests dominating government decisions. It highlights the example of the Wall Street backlash against Congressional Democrats after the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 and proposes that the corruption of American democracy must be addressed.

The Influence of Money in Politics

Over the past few decades, the cost of running for political office in America has skyrocketed, since donors have started pouring substantial amounts of money into campaigns. This has fundamentally changed how democracy works in the U.S. Previously, control of Congress was rarely a matter of uncertainty, with no reason for lavishing candidates with funds. But in the 1960s, the Civil Rights Act proved to be so unpopular among white voters that the Republican Party gained the upper hand. From then on, money began to play a substantial role in Congressional elections. Additionally, the cost of ads and campaign technology has continued to rise, forcing candidates to deal with increasing demands for money. The effect of all this is that, in practice, American democracy stops being representative. Candidates tend to win based on their financial resources and access to big money donors. In all, this is a detrimental phenomenon that puts pressure on politicians to prioritize donors’ interests over their constituents’ interests.

The Power of Donors

American politics have been distorted by the influence of a wealthy minority. Candidates embrace extreme positions to attract funding, leading to a shift to the political fringes. This is especially true for House members in safe districts who can woo extremist donors without sacrificing their re-election. Due to this trend, Republicans moved sharply to the right while Democrats shifted to the left. Lobbying transformed from a cottage industry into a multibillion-dollar business, with lobbyists spending huge sums to sway politicians. This shift to a donor-centric system has led to an “inequality of citizens,” where the wealthy hold disproportionate sway over government policy. As a result, the voice of citizens is drowned out by the loud voice of money. It’s clear that government bends in the direction of the funders, making it essential to address this issue to restore balance and equity to American politics.

The Rich Get Richer

The US government operates in ways that favor the wealthy, leaving ordinary citizens with little political leverage. “Economic elites” are linked to a higher probability of a policy’s passage, while the support of the majority doesn’t correlate. This reality reveals a growing wealth gap in America known as “Richistan”, where the wealthiest 1% receives a similar share of income as they did before the Great Depression. The lobbying industry has exploded over the last 20 years, maintaining the support of affluent donors. Members of Congress prioritize small but contentious issues that bring in contributions, while ignoring significant matters such as tax reform or poverty.

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