Larry Lessig: Our Democracy No Longer Represents The People. Here’s How We Fix It at TEDxMidAtlantic (Transcript)

Larry Lessig

Full transcript of Harvard professor Larry Lessig’s TEDx Talk: Our Democracy No Longer Represents The People. Here’s How We Fix It at TEDxMidAtlantic Conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: Our democracy no longer represents the people. Here’s how we fix it by Larry Lessig at TEDxMidAtlantic



So, it turns out exactly a year ago, right now, right this minute, a year ago in Hong Kong, an extraordinary protest began. Protest begun by students, literally, high school and college students, elementary school students, then their parents felt a little embarrassed that they had let their kids work so hard and then they showed up as well.

And the protest was about a law. And the law was proposed by China. The law was to determine how the Governor of Hong Kong would be selected. And the law said, “The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

OK, so the idea was, there’s a two step process. The first step was nomination, and then the second step was an election. And the nominating committee would be comprised of about 1200 people which means out of 7 million people, that is 0.02% of Hong Kong. All right, now 0.02% as you can see is a really tiny number. Really, really small.

If you thought about it, relative to all the people in Hong Kong, it would look something like this, this tiny little corner is 0.02%.

So 0.02% get to pick the candidates, that the rest of Hong Kong gets to vote among. And the protest was because the fear was this filter would be a biased filter. The claim was that 0.02% would be dominated by a pro-Beijing business and political elite. So 99.98% would be excluded from this critical first step with the consequence, obviously, of producing a democracy responsive to China only.

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OK, now, it turns out the Chinese stole this idea from an American. Don’t worry, there was no patent, no copyrights, there’s no IP violations going on here. But they stole the idea from an American. Maybe the greatest political philosopher in America — a man named Boss Tweed.

Boss Tweed had a Tammany Hall political party. He used to say, “I don’t care who does the electing, as long as I get to do the nominating.” So, this conception, this kind of — conception of politics has an obvious logic to it, right, because, if you control the nomination, every candidate was going to worry what you, the nominator, think. So, you practically control the candidate, whether or not you control the ultimate election. We can call that genius theory — that genius theory for destroying democracy — Tweedism.

Any two-stage process where the Tweeds get to nominate and then the rest get to select is Tweedism. And the consequence of Tweedism, obviously, is producing a system responsive to Tweeds only.

Now, Tweedism was practiced not just in the North, not just in New York, it was practiced in the South too. Texas in 1923 practiced Tweedism by a law. In 1923 Texas passed statute that said, “In the Democratic primary only whites could vote.” Only whites could vote. Blacks could vote in a General Election, if of course they could get registered, given all the barriers to registration.

But only whites could vote in a democratic Primary. And of course, back then, hard to imagine, but back then the only party that mattered was the Democratic Party in Texas.

So, in this two-stage process, blacks were excluded from the first stage. 16% of Texas excluded from this critical first stage, with the consequence obviously of producing a democracy responsive to whites only.

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