Monday, November 7, 2011

He Teaches Ethics At Harvard


Harvard Law Professor of Ethics Lessig said tonight at the CEU in Budapest that Members of Congress taking money from corporations and then voting in their interest is corruption but not a crime. Before our representatives made a habit of taking money from corporate lobbies for their election campaigns the corporations simply left sacks of money on their desks. The politicians are not essentially bad, the professors says, they've outgrown that habit now, but they need money for their campaigns and have to spend half their time raising it. Public funding of elections would go a long way to solving the problem of corruption.

I can hardly believe what I'm hearing. Didn't this Harvard Law professor of Ethics just get through saying that more than half of all Members of Congress go to work as lobbyists after their terms of office were over? They did not need to have sacks of money left on their desks to be motivated, public financing of elections wouldn't change anything. Germany has it already, to not much effect, Hungary where this lecture is being held has it too, to even less effect.

But it is not this that makes me angry. The talk concludes with the Harvard Law Professor of Ethics saying that we all have responsibility for permitting the situation to get out of hand.

Questions from the audience? I am first to raise my hand.

- Why do you say that representatives taking money from corporations and then voting in their interests is legal? Don't they have contracts of employment with the government? For their two hundred or three hundred thousand dollars a year their job is to represent the people, not special interests. What representation means is clearly spelled out in the founding documents of the nation, especially in the Federalist papers. You just spent a hour detailing how these government employees are not representing the people who elected them because they are being paid by other people not to represent them. How is that not a crime? How not breach of contract, not fraud?
- I don't think the courts would rule it was.
- Then those judges, whose election campaigns are also commonly supported by corporations, ought to be accused of crimes too.
- That is extreme.
- You are permissive, and you just got through with accusing us all of permitting the corruption to take place. I for one don't permit any of this. You explicitly do.

The microphone is taken away from me at this point. I leave the auditorium.

The caterers outside in the lobby scold me away in Hungarian when I approach the glasses of wine. My attempt at a quick grab is foiled, the solid female server immediately gets my forearm in a firm grasp and I am forced to give up. Ten minutes later the audience emerges and I with wine glass in hand and rolls in pocket go around to one person after another, saying,

- I know you, you permitted the politicians to trade their votes for legislation in exchange for campaign contributions. You are the one responsible for permitting the politicians to destroy democracy. What the politicians do is not criminal, however you are guilty of allowing them to become corrupt. The Harvard Law Professor of Ethics says so. You just heard him. And? You know you didn't really permit anything. What could you do? Who listens to you? Who cares about what you think? On the other hand the Harvard Law Professor of Ethics went to school with these legally corrupt politicians, he ate meals with them, he lived next door to them. They are not evil, he told us. We all share the guilt.

I am very angry.