About a month ago now, Lessig rebooted his career. Once the champion of copyright reform and founder of the Creative Commons (where he will still have a role), he has now decided to focus on “corruption.”
Corruption not in the sense of blatant bribery, and the stereotypical corruption prevalent a few generations ago (though still occasionally still peeks its shunned head out once in a while). I think he has correctly defined the problem to be the “undo influence of money in political, scientific, corporate, legal, medical (et al) decision making.” That’s probably an oversimplification of it, but checkout his “alpha” version of his lecture here. Also his review of Supercapitalism here.
He has an admirable goal, and he freely admits that he is unsure how successful he can be at directing change. I definitely share that skepticism. The nature of money (or anything of value given for influence) is that its very hard to change the system when money itself put the people capable of doing anything in their current place of power. However, given the extent to which Lessig has had on the copyright and free culture movement – having profound effect on culture and how everyone views and relates to copyright and culture, while at the same time falling short of true copyright reform – I wouldn’t bet against him exerting an influence here. I just feel the scope might be more than he bargained for.
And I mean it in the following sense – At least with culture and copyright, there was power in a grass roots movement creating free culture. Everyone had power to create something and donate it. The fact that Flickr has a Creative Common’s search speaks to this. You could incrementally move your agenda via a grass roots movement. It took no money to do, only time, energy and talent to move the debate. I’m not sure the same thing applies here. I’m not sure how you essentially “fight money” without money of your own, and money in that form is hard to come by. You can fight the RIAA/MPAA’s of the world with content of your very own. Its hard (maybe impossible) to remove the pharma-influence on medicine… it’s not like you are offering drugs of your own to compete. You essentially need to push for regulatory action (campaign finance reform, pharmaceutical reform, corporate reform), which anyone can tell you, is an uphill battle that is virtually impossible to win.