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TEDxSanAntonio- Lawrence Lessig- Citizens: The Need and the Requirements

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Lessig: So, thank you very much So I want to talk to you a little bit about the one job we most easily forget that we have: the job of being a citizen. And I will start by talking a little bit first about something that happened before 1846 some place close to this place, Walden Pond near Boston, when this man, Henry David Thoreau, wrote the following sentence. He said: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root So, this is the picture of a 14-year old boy It's a picture of an epidemic in America. The number of kids who are obese in America has tripled since 1980. For kids over 2, 1/3 are now technically obese. This epidemic has costs: The most interesting, tragic cost is actually tied with type 2 diabetes, a type of diabetes that used to only afflict older people Now half of the new cases come rom kids. The cost of this is $147 billion in direct health care costs every year. Now the question is why have we produced this epidemic? When I was a kid, I used to think, because I was fat, that this was about genetic problems, but it's a little bit hard to imagine a whole generation of kids genetically becoming overweight, unless we've got this weird new intervention from outer space. No, instead it's because of what we eat. There is a consensus among people who know something about the matter that we eat too much of this stuff, not enough of this stuff. And not actually this stuff, it's more the high fructose corn syrup that is now in 40% of the products in your supermarket. Now you might ask why is that, what has happened? ...(check) that sugar is expensive, relative to corn. And free-market hypes (check) look and say, well, that' just what the market says and we are going to work around how the market teaches us we have to eat. But it's not quite so simple, because of course, sugar is expensive in America, because we have tariffs that protect 6 domestic sugar manufacturers, gives them about a billion dollars in extra profits every year and cost the American economy about 3 billion dollars in efficiency lost, because sugar is about 2 or 3 times the cost in America as in our competitive countries. And corn is so cheap in America, because the government subsidizes it. 74 billion dollars in the last 15 years. Some economists estimate the cost of growing corn is actually negative: you get paid to grow corn So you take these 2 facts - sugar and corn - together and what we see is a radical shift in the cost of food. So between 1997 and 2003, the cost of vegetables went up by 17%, the cost of the Big Mac went down by 5.4%, the cost of a big can of coke went down by 35%. And we also see a radical shift in how food gets made. Some of you might have seen this extraordinary film Food Inc, which talks about the way that corn, because it's so cheap, can now profitably be fed to cattle raised in these kinds of conditions. Not so profitable for the cattle, because of course corns now are the sort of things that a cow's stomach can't digest easily instead, you've got to feed the cow all sorts of antibiotics to deal with the diseases that corn breeds inside of their stomach, and those antibiotics then begin to breed plenty of this e-coli of which now there is a film about (check) a 4-year old who died because of a hamburger that he had eaten. All of this because corn is so cheap and sugar is so dear. Now, here we are in Texas, we're going to ask the obvious question: Why is there so much anti-free-market silliness here? What explains it? And the political scientists would say, well, nobody can prove why this is like this, but here's what we can say: there is an extraordinary amount of campaign cash in this story. Sugar producers give millions of dollars to campaigns to continue to get their protective tariff, and companies that build on corns spend millions of dollars to continue to get government subsidies for corn and if it is because of these campaign contributions, then we can say campaign money distorts the market, which distorts food production, which distorts our kids. Now, that's one story. And, if I had endless time - which I'm told I don't have endless time - OK, if I had endless time, we could go through an endless list of such stories Just think about Wall Street. We've just seen this extraordinary collapse in Wall Street. Why was there that collapse? Fantastic book here by Simon Johnson and James Kwak, talking about this perverse mix of deregulation and reregulation that Wall Street lived under. Deregulation happened in the 80's and the 90's. In that period, we had a whole bunch of financial innovations, Brilliant new ideas like CDOs and synthetic (... check) All these sorts of crazy, amazing new devices which were to make our world safe for modern finance

Video Details

Duration: 19 minutes and 47 seconds
Country: Italy
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: Lawrence Lessig
Director: Lawrence Lessig
Views: 78
Posted by: arf on Jan 6, 2011

About this talk: Starting with Thoreau and moving through the cost of sugar versus corn and diabetes, Lawrence Lessig gives a compelling — and visually breathtaking — presentation on the impact of campaign cash on the policies of our nation. His message: We need citizens to take back our democracy.

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