Why good people are easily corrupted (with Lawrence Lessig)


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I’ve been learning from, and arguing with, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig for a decade now. We have a long-running debate over whether money or polarization is the root cause of our political ills. But our debate works because we share a crucial belief: Bad institutions overwhelm good individuals.
In his latest book, America, Compromised, Lessig is doing something ambitious: He’s offering a new definition of institutional corruption, then showing how it plays out in politics, academia, the media, Wall Street, and the legal system. This is a definition of corruption that doesn’t require any individual to be corrupt. But it’s a definition that, if you accept it, suggests much of our society has been corrupted.
Here, Lessig and I discuss what corruption is, how to understand an institution’s purpose, whether capitalism is itself corrupting, our upcoming books about the media, how small donors polarize politics, Lessig’s critique of democracy, why good people are particularly susceptible to institutional corruption, whether we should ban private money in politics, and ways to reinvent representative democracy. So, you know, nothing too big or heady.
Book recommendations:
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalismby Edward E. Baptist
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Powerby Shoshana Zuboff
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261 episodes