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The Next Social Revolution? 835

Posted by michael
from the big-ideas dept.
Cryofan writes "In a recent interview, Howard Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs) discussed the possibility of a 'new economic system' born of 'unconscious cooperation' embodied by such technologies as Google links and Amazon lists, Wikipedia, wireless devices using unlicensed spectrum, Web logs, and open-source software. Rheingold speculates that 'the technology of the Internet, reputation systems, online communities, mobile devices...may make some new economic system possible....We had markets, then we had capitalism, and socialism was a reaction to industrial-era capitalism. There's been an assumption that since communism failed, capitalism is triumphant, therefore humans have stopped evolving new systems for economic production.' However, Rheingold is worried that established companies with business models that are threatened by these new technologies could 'quash such nascent innovations as file-sharing -- and potentially put the U.S. at risk of falling behind the rest of the world.'"
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The Next Social Revolution?

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  • Don't worry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by seanadams.com (463190) * on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:32PM (#9997289) Homepage
    Rheingold is worried that established companies with business models that are threatened by these new technologies could 'quash such nascent
    innovations as file-sharing


    Don't worry, they can only manage this for a very short period of time. They're all ice vendors in the age of the fridge, and it's not a rut that they can simply step out of. They're in the wrong business entirely - technology doesn't just stand aside when a few vested interests complain to Capitol Hill.
    • by NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) <john.oylerNO@SPAMcomcast.net> on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:12PM (#9997495) Journal
      Haha. Ice vendors who have the financial and political muscle to outlaw fridges, send secret police around confiscating them, and poison your childrens' minds with "artificial refrigeration is an evil abomination" propaganda coming from "unconnected" think tanks.

      Yes, don't worry at all.
      • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @12:12AM (#9997771) Homepage Journal
        but history is filled with examples of big business being pressured to conform to society's wishes.

        AT&T's monopoly was dismembered.

        Standard Oil's monopoly was dismembered.

        The horrific child labor conditions of the Industrial Age were checked by laws.

        Labor unions were established.

        The weekend was created.

        This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but the point is that business in the United States is not immune to pressure from the population at large. It just takes a lot of hard work and political activism to force change of any kind, and most Americans are for a variety of reasons singularly uninterested in exercising their political power.

        • The horrific child labor conditions of the Industrial Age were checked by laws.

          In Western countries.
        • by persaud (304710) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @01:12AM (#9998057)
          > AT&T's monopoly was dismembered.

          And the ILEC's today cumulatively have more power than AT&T ever did, extending beyond POTS into cellular and broadband. All made possible by cash flow from their POTS monopoly.

          > Standard Oil's monopoly was dismembered.

          But the dismembered portions were all owned by the same people who owned Standard Oil. What's more, the dismembered portions together made more money that the original Standard Oil.

          Identity decentralization != Financial decentralization.

          > Labor unions were established.

          Talked to the pilots' union at Delta recently? How about United Airlines? Their pensions are not looking too good -- coming soon to a union near you.

          > The weekend was created.

          Are you classified as a salaried technology professional? Then your hours do not qualify for overtime. In fact, they may not qualify for time, depending on your employer.

          Americans in unions are very interested in excercising their political power, what's left of it. But don't stay up late waiting for your 401K to lobby Washington for your children's future.
        • by seanadams.com (463190) * on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @02:31AM (#9998411) Homepage
          One counterpoint to the cases you mentioned though, is that the companies fighting those changes were not opposing new technology paradigms, but rather direct competition (AT&T, Std Oil) or humanity (child labor etc).

          What we're seeing now is interesting in that outmoded businesses are now receiving strong legal protection (with no popular support) in the form of bizarre laws that allow them to do very anticompetitive/anticapitalist things. From what I know of American history, we used to be very eager to embrace new technologies - indeed, technology has been the backbone of the USA since the industrial age, and that tradition is what's being threatened here.

          The good news is, the USA has a remarkable "healing" ability and after a few years, once everybody sees what's going on, we usually correct our mistakes pretty quickly and move on to the next battle.
          • by Hortensia Patel (101296) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @08:43AM (#9999866)

            technology has been the backbone of the USA since the industrial age

            Since, maybe. During, no. The USA's initial industrialization was largely founded on cotton, which in turn was founded on genocide (providing cheap land) and slavery (providing cheap labour).

            after a few years, once everybody sees what's going on, we usually correct our mistakes pretty quickly

            Erm... how can I put this delicately...

    • Re:Don't worry (Score:3, Insightful)

      by serutan (259622)
      Ice companies didn't try the tactic of outlawing refrigerators, which is essentially what the media industry is trying to do. Economics alone won't stop them and their lobbyists and bought congressmen from getting away with it. I doubt that the general public is going to rise up and demand the right to use P2P, or that copyright laws be revamped, as long as they're more worried about putting food on the table and getting their new HDTV paid for.
  • by Qinopio (602437) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:32PM (#9997290) Homepage
    Are you saying the giant corporations might do something that's not in the interest of the public good?
  • by Icarus1919 (802533) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:35PM (#9997304)
    Anyone who thinks that human beings are going to work together for the common good, especially in an economics setting, has been smoking too much weed. We don't even have a FAIR capitalistic society yet.

    Besides it's one thing to say that new forms of economics should be created, but it's quite another to go out and create that system. And even then, who is to say it won't be too idealistic, or just plain ineffective (communism, etc.)?
    • by Xeth (614132) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:50PM (#9997380) Journal
      People do work together for the common good. But only in certain fields. Some people feel the call to advance human knowledge, and do it because it's what they want, not because they're in it for the money. The same is true for Open Source. The problem is, it's nobody's dream to clean toilets, and there are plenty of such jobs that need to be done in order for society to function.
    • by riptide_dot (759229) * on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:07PM (#9997472)
      We don't even have a FAIR capitalistic society yet.

      I'll bet you're thinking of something like "The American Dream", which is the dream of a "fair" capitalistic society. Or Utopia, which is in theory where the socialism/communism/capitalism models are supposed to evolve to.

      Capitalism by definition isn't necessarily supposed to be fair - it's an economic model that states that anyone is allowed to make money. It means that evil corporations are still allowed the make the same money in the same market that good ol' Joe is (substitute whatever David vs. Goliath story you wish - NewPunkBand vs RIAA, Consumers vs. BigCorporations, Linux vs. Microsoft, etc..etc.etc). It just so happens that currently (and many,many,many times in the past) politics are helping the bigger evil corporations make money easier than good ol' Joe, because they are big enough to get some law on their side.

      Howard Rheingold is making the point that these big evil corporations are depending on what he believes is an outdated "version" of the capitalistic economic model, which is that since they need to control the distribution of their particular product/service in order to make money, the only way they can make that happen when technology gets in the way is to get laws passed against it. That can't "bail them out" forever, especially when other countries that aren't necessarily interested in following that economic model get involved.

      If greed motivates the average human (which it does), then the way for this type of "social revolution" to work is for everyone involved have something to gain by the collective participation of everyone. The "greed factor" could be that people start to learn in an very Pavlov-like-way that the more they contribute to making the collective model work, the better it works for them. It might take some time, but it's not outside the realm of possibility.

      But then again I've had a few beers, so maybe I'm just dreaming...:)
  • It continues (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BCW2 (168187) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:35PM (#9997306) Journal
    The process of evolution is never ending. Some ideas get recycled in a modified form. Look at barter: the trading of goods or services, for goods or services. Has anyone fixed someones computer in exchange for something? Thats how I got my current office chair.
  • 'New economy' (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Digital Avatar (752673) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:35PM (#9997311) Journal

    Oh my, a 'new economy' based on 'unconscious cooperation'. My, that sounds like Capitalism.

    • Re:'New economy' (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PapayaSF (721268) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:50PM (#9997384) Journal
      Oh my, a 'new economy' based on 'unconscious cooperation'. My, that sounds like Capitalism

      Indeed. Howard is a nice guy and has some interesting ideas, but like a lot of lefties he keeps hoping that there is some workable, "non-oppressive" alternative to the free market. Unfortunately, Churchill's statement about democracy as a political system applies here as well: capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the others.
      • Re:'New economy' (Score:5, Insightful)

        by j1m+5n0w (749199) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:15PM (#9997516) Homepage Journal
        but like a lot of lefties he keeps hoping that there is some workable, "non-oppressive" alternative to the free market

        The free market is well entrenched because it is, as far as I can tell, the most effective economic system for dealing with scarcity. It has its problems under some conditions (such as lack of competition [wikipedia.org] or information asymmetry [wikipedia.org]), but it generally works.

        However, in the world of intelectual property, there is no such thing as scarcity, so it makes perfect sense to consider new forms of distribution. The hard part is to provide an incentive to create without limiting distribution.

        -jim

        • Re:'New economy' (Score:3, Insightful)

          by topynate (694371)
          The hard part is to provide an incentive to create without limiting distribution.
          The act of creation itself has value. This is the primary incentive to create when scarcity doesn't exist.
        • Re:'New economy' (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Dr. Bent (533421) <ben AT int DOT com> on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @01:40AM (#9998210) Homepage
          However, in the world of intelectual property, there is no such thing as scarcity,

          Huh? Is there a vast army of top-notch zombie programmers that you have stashed away on a small island somewhere? Do you happen to have a cloning machine that makes fully formed nobel-prize winning biochemists? There is most definitely scarcity in the world of intellectual property...it's called: The Labor Market.

          Intellectual property has to be created by someone with talent. Lots of talent, that takes years of training and (as some would argue) a particular kind of mindset. Not everyone can perform these tasks, which means we have a limited resource that needs to be efficently allocated in the marketplace. To think that the rules of the free market do not apply just because you can copy software with little or no cost is missing the point. The scarcity isn't the software...it's the people. Software that's been well understood, and copied over and over, (open-sourced even) is a commodity, sure. But you can run an economy soley based on commodities!

          Any sucessful economic system needs to grow...it needs to generate value. To do that, you need smart people making new software (and books, and movies, and graphic art, etc...). As long as the talent needed to create these things is in limited supply, Capitalism will apply to the IP market just as surely as it applies to everything else.

          • Re:'New economy' (Score:4, Insightful)

            by j1m+5n0w (749199) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @02:52AM (#9998473) Homepage Journal
            There is most definitely scarcity in the world of intellectual property...it's called: The Labor Market.

            True, if a thing doesn't exist, it's scarce. But once intelectual property is created, it is no longer scarce (except through artificial control of the supply). This is totally unlike tangible goods. Normally, a loaf of bread can't feed an infinite number of people, but what if it could [wikisource.org]? Should we pretend all our old rules still apply?

            But you [can't] run an economy soley based on commodities!

            Maybe not, but the things that are commoditized are no longer scarce. Operating system kernels, C compilers, web browsers, and word processors are no longer scarce because we have linux, gcc, mozilla, and open office.

            Not everything will be commoditized, and not everything should be free. Some special purpose software will still require money to get someone to write it, just like dealerships aren't about to start handing out free cars. There's no reason why free markets can't coexist with free software.

            -jim

      • Goals and Costs (Score:3, Interesting)

        by headkase (533448)
        ...is some workable, "non-oppressive" alternative to the free market...
        Capitalism is a great system, but what I really think the Lefties should concentrate on is not throwing the whole system out but rather tweak how it works.
        Two of the characteristics that the capital system has assumed is the goal of a company which is traditionally to make money and the costs of business associated with achieving the goal.
        Starting with costs, the system could be restructured towards a green economy by manipulating th
    • "Real" Capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by maggeth (793549) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:57PM (#9997430)
      Actually it sounds more like "Real Capitalism" as opposed to this phoney, monopolistic system we have right now. Innovation is only used when a competitor that you couldn't shut out of the market forces you to keep up (sound like Microsoft?). People will eventually demand real free markets instead of "free" markets built by and run by a few selected corporations who can set up toll booths at their choosing (like the Microsoft tax, for example).

      This interview is especially interesting because it outlines some specifics about HOW this can proceed, using technology as a tool to force social progress. Hopefully governments won't start fucking with things to protect their client corporations and realise that everyone needs to adapt. Otherwise they might as well be full-blown communists.

  • by Flamingcheeze (737589) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:38PM (#9997329) Homepage Journal
    It's called the FREE MARKET, people!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:41PM (#9997342)
    "Unconscious cooperation?" Why, it's almost as if it's being guided by...an "invisible hand!"
  • Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EvanED (569694) <evaned@gmailPASCAL.com minus language> on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:45PM (#9997359)
    Rheingold is worried that established companies with business models that are threatened by these new technologies could 'quash such nascent innovations as file-sharing -- and potentially put the U.S. at risk of falling behind the rest of the world.'

    The easy solution? Make the rest of the world quash innovations such as file-sharing too.

    (Sadly, this seems to be too common the attitude, and seems to work somewhat...)
  • by lavaface (685630) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:48PM (#9997370) Homepage
    I've tried to get an article about Nooron [nooron.org] published for a while but to no avail. Why is this ontopic? Well, as our networking systems grow more complicated, we need better ways to parse through all the noise. Slashdot's moderation and, to some extent amazon and ebay reviews are a nascent form of this.

    I like to think a global network mesh could enable something like Orson Scott Card's citizens net; government, and economics would fall squarely in the hands of the people. For this to happen, we need proper education and corporations have done a fine job of turning schools into factories for worker bees and obedient consumers. In the truest form of capitalism, information flows freely.

    Of course, we all know too many examples how our modern economic incarnation of "capitalism" works hard to restrict knowledge through "proper" channels and limit competition. It may take a while, but I think as the costs of communication continue to fall, we may see some effort towards creating alternative economies within the superstructure of global capitalism. Just a little rant . . . I'd be happy to clarify any questions you all may have.

    And here's another link that contains sentiments similar to nooron: The Bootstrap Institute [bootstrap.org]

  • Is it me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Paulrothrock (685079) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:52PM (#9997395) Homepage Journal
    Does the article seem to drop off? There was a great question about outsourcing, but Rheingold only got two sentences in before the end of the article. I'd like to hear more about this. Does he think there will be a migration to places with a lower cost of living? Because that's the only way this 'network' economy could work; I can't live in America what a web developer in India could live on, so I either get outcompeted, or I move somewhere cheaper, since I can do my job from anywhere with an Internet connection.

    I also got the distinct feeling he visited Slashdot once and got this idea, without sticking around to see how it doesn't work sometimes. (GNAA, I'm looking in your direction...)

  • Digital anarchism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by makhnolives (135503) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:54PM (#9997405) Homepage
    I respect Howard Rheingold as a technology writer, but can he at least give some props and credit to digital anarchists and hacktivists who have been writing about these ideas for years?

    By the way, the next economic system will be the participatory economics of anarchism. Capitalism is unsustainable. Not only are its days are numbered, but billions around the world want something better and more fair.

    Chuck0
    http://www.infoshop.org
  • Entropy. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stevesliva (648202) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @10:59PM (#9997441) Journal
    The telegraph didn't prevent the telephone, the railroad didn't prevent the automobile. But now, because of the immense amounts of money that they're spending on lobbying and the need for immense amounts of money for media, the political process is being manipulated by incumbents.
    But it's not like the auto manufacturers didn't actively and knowingly destroy the trolley systems present in US cities.

    So open source and open content and what media companies call "piracy" is actively destroying the distribution systems in paces for software and media. It's inevitable, Agent Smith. It's entropy. The "mob" ain't gonna settle for being controlled.

  • by thief_inc (466143) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:03PM (#9997461) Homepage
    I work for a large and very dominate bio-medical company. One of our products is flow-cytometers. They are used in looking at the relative size, complexity and antibodies a cell possesses. They use lasers, Photo Multiplier tubes,fairly complex electronics and reagents to do this.

    Most of the data and techniques that are used are shared by our customers at Purdue [purdue.edu]

    Of course universities are more likely to share data than our pharmaceutical customers but that is to be expected and they do share some data mainly in regards to techniques. Our customers have also started forming user groups and organizing conferences. Because of this format stem cell research, mapping of the human genome, and progress fighting aids and cancer has quickened. I am pretty excited to be a part of it all we even have some custom products that allow our customers to look at bacteria!(much smaller than cells).

    What is even more exciting is that our latest generation of instruments are being purchased by people who have never used them before(yay profit!) and are in completely different fields. I always make sure to point them to purdue so even more data can be shared.

    Over all I am very optimistic about these developments. In the next 5-10 years I would not be surprised to see major develpments if not cures in all immune system related fields.
  • by ChipMonk (711367) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:05PM (#9997466) Journal
    Rheingold is worried that established companies with business models that are threatened by these new technologies could 'quash such nascent innovations as file-sharing -- and potentially put the U.S. at risk of falling behind the rest of the world.'"

    Since it looks like the only way to do the quashing is through the courts, doesn't that make it a government-managed economy? Only now, instead of "the people's" will, it's "the companies' will". No matter, it's still a club to beat people up with.

    Meet the new Communism, [amost the] same as the old Communism.
  • by Crashmarik (635988) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:11PM (#9997494)
    Seems like Mr Rheingold has been reading a little too much of the good Mr. Doctorows work.

    The whole problem with other alternative systems, respect based, communism, or whatever is the simple fact that they require people to be better than they are. Unfortunately people are rotten in general. The typical person can convince themselves that any and all action they take is of the highest order. The current election where both parties seem to have betrayed every principle they espouse is a good example.

    Untill you have a literally unlimited production capacity, there will always be incentive for people to take the other guys. If for nothing else people will take yours just to deprive you of having it. As long as their is shortage of desirable goods it doesn't matter wheather you call the currency the Dollar, ruble or the respect unit, the system will wind up looking rather similar.

    If you would like to see society get better figure out how to make people a little less rotten.
    • by danharan (714822) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @12:24AM (#9997823) Journal
      The whole problem with other alternative systems, respect based, communism, or whatever is the simple fact that they require people to be better than they are. Unfortunately people are rotten in general.
      obviously you're American (honest, that was my first thought!)... wait:
      The typical person can convince themselves that any and all action they take is of the highest order. The current election where both parties seem to have betrayed every principle they espouse is a good example.
      Right! You are! No one else would talk about the current election with two parties, leaving out the name of the country and other details, and assume to be understood- but an American. (Ok, I'll cut you some slack: this *is* slashdot, which is located in the US ;)

      Now, you know, a lot of the "rest of the world" isn't quite as paranoid about other people wanting to steal their stuff. A lot of us actually believe that the vast majority of the time, most people like to cooperate. And there are enough people that like to act ethically that things like wikipedia and open-source can actually work. Heck, not just work, they can work better than your cut-throat capitalism.

      Oh, I should mention this while I'm ranting: the US economy's fortunes have very little to do with your brand of aggressive capitalism. If anything, you're doing well despite it. In the first part of the last century, you folks had a lot of oil, which is essential for fuelling an industrial economy and war machine. That's all. Just like England became wealthy with coal, you became wealthy because of oil- just an accident of history, really.

      I believe St. Francis explained that having wealth made you fearful, and wanting to protect it. It was easier for him just to renounce material wealth, so he wouldn't have to worry.

      Now, this is a crucial point: the US has been in decline now for some 30 years as an economic power. Your GDP goes up, but you people aren't any happier. This wealth that you accumulated is causing you some nasty "cognitive dissonnance", and you're choosing to resolve it by believing odd notions- like you're somehow superior, and the rest of the world is after you. Not so.

      There is no problem with these other economic systems so long as they do not require coercion. People obviously ARE willing to contribute to things like wikipedia, distributed proofreaders, open source projects, peace brigades international, etc, etc... These things WORK. Who are you to say that human nature is evil, in the face of such feats? Humans sure are capable of incredible, unspeakable barbarity. But that's only human realization, quite distinct from human nature, which includes the possibility of either realization. And some systems invite certain types of realization: authoritarian systems invite barbary, systems that give status in exchange for contribution reward giving.

      It's not selfless in the dualistic way that is present in judeo-christian (well, mostly christian) morality. The gift economy can't be seen as either selfless or selfish- more like enlightened self-interest. Contribute to a good OSS project, see your ability to charge high consulting fees go up. Neither selfless, nor selfish (or maybe both?)
      Untill you have a literally unlimited production capacity
      Ah, there you have it: as far as IP goes, we do have nearly unlimited production capacity. Economists had to come up with the idea of augmenting returns; it's so damned cheap to copy bits that marginal costs keep decreasing. You can't deprive the other guy by making a copy (well, unless you're counting on licensing...).
      If you would like to see society get better figure out how to make people a little less rotten.
      There's no need. We only need a system that invites better realizations, and that's something that's become possible with a new mode of production. It's a rare thing in human history to be witnesses to such a massive change. That said, I'm afraid a lot of Americans are going to be too afraid to partake in this movement because your accidental wealth has warped your vision, making you see human nature as dark as your leaders manifest it.
      • by SQL Error (16383) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @05:54AM (#9999083)
        Now, you know, a lot of the "rest of the world" isn't quite as paranoid about other people wanting to steal their stuff.

        A lot of the rest of the world has no need to be paranoid about other people wanting to steal their stuff. Because they can see it happening. Their own governments are doing it.

        A lot of us actually believe that the vast majority of the time, most people like to cooperate.

        The entire structure of Western Civilisation is built on trust networks, and this is more true in America than it is in Europe. Trust and co-operation do not rule out competition. But socialist governments do.

        And there are enough people that like to act ethically that things like wikipedia and open-source can actually work.

        Yes. And?

        Either the system allows free choice and free distribution of rewards - which is capitalism. Or it doesn't. And capitalism has out-competed every other system humanity has ever devised. Capitalism produces more and better goods cheaper and with less effort. It's capitalism that has produced the immense surplus of wealth that allows us to spend our free time developing software just to give it away.
    • If you would like to see society get better figure out how to make people a little less rotten.

      That's not really necessary. For the most part, people are already prevented from acting rotten if they feel that doing so would harm their reputation. In the context of doing business, corporations act rotten if its worth their while. If enough customers have the right information, it stops being worthwhile.

      Consider the prisoners' dilemma [stanford.edu] -- the best outcome for both prisoners is if they both remain silent, b

  • by quewhatque (806311) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:13PM (#9997499)
    Communism didnt work because people are flat out lazy and greedy. Throughout time, the US and other big countries will lead into this socialism/communism and capitalism will gradually play less of a role as things become more and more mechanized, especially farming. People didnt want to grow crops for the common good, but electricity doesnt seem to care. OSS works because the maker of the software doesnt have to remake it for everyone who wants the software, computers can simply copy it, and not everyone has to contribute; the OSS is meant to be abused by average users with the few who feel they should/want to make something for the common good. If power becomes less of an issue (fusion power obviously), and the few ppl (scientists, related to the people who make open software) will design something (farming or productive robots) for the average lazy user. Communism required too much from the average user.
  • by core_dump_0 (317484) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:15PM (#9997513) Homepage
    Industrial capitalism: Presence of corporations, legal "people" with unlimited liability protected by the State. Phony "free trade agreements" and "free trade organizations" which are nothing more than protection of businesses. Strict intellectual property laws. This is what we have in America.

    Free-market capitalism: What this guy is describing. No corporations, true free trade (meaning the absence of subsidies, tariffs, embargoes, outsourcing bans, and other restrictions, NOT by agreements or organizations, but by lack of laws.) Whether there is intellectual property or not is debatable. I don't think that this has ever been fully put into practice.
  • But.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by baximus (552800) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:17PM (#9997526)
    ... potentially put the U.S. at risk of falling behind the rest of the world

    Not going to happen - because the US will just swallow up (read: US-Australia Free Trade Agreement) anything that seems to be creeping ahead, thus quashing these technologies in other parts of the world as well.
  • by Keitopsis (766128) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:29PM (#9997593) Journal
    This is sounding like a new way to pass the buck. At the same time, there are far more social implications to these technologies.

    What geeks saw in the 80's. College students saw in the early 90s, and what the entire world is waking up to now is that by changing the extent of a single persons ability to communicate, we have a much larger base population for any one society.

    It is interesting to note that while large corperations are throwing money at ways to resist economic change, governments and traditional cultures are also trying to resist a "global" society by protecting viewpoints,certain sentimentalities,and cultural identification. Are we seeing a unilateral changes in social-political power structures as well as economic systems?

    My $.02, but I think I have change coming.
    Kei
  • by crmartin (98227) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:34PM (#9997618)
    Congratulations, Howard, you're discovered free markets. Self-organizing, self-optimizing.

    Best of all, gussy it up with some techie-speak and no one will ever notice you're repeating one of the best sellers of '76.

    1776.
  • unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by deus_X_machina (413485) on Tuesday August 17, 2004 @11:49PM (#9997678)
    'unconscious cooperation'

    Wouldn't it still be conscience since it's trying to, uhh, earn the most amount of money possible?

    There's been an assumption that since communism failed, capitalism is triumphant

    China isn't doing so badly. It seems most capitalistic societies are taking a more socialist turn - providing healhcare, welfare, education, etc. Seems capitalism sort of fused with the ideas of communism.

    Rheingold is worried that established companies with business models that are threatened by these new technologies

    Open source is superior to brand name any day. Linux > windows. Firefox > IE. However, the latter both dominate the market, but Linux and Mozilla still have their fair share. Open source is the only example of REAL capitalism - since it's based on rugged individualism and can compete with huge corperations. That being said, it also forces big companies to innovate their software. You can bet that IE 7 will closely resemble FireFox.

    quash such nascent innovations as file-sharing -- and potentially put the U.S. at risk of falling behind the rest of the world.'"

    That is a fairly valid assumption, however, file sharing seems to be as rampant as ever. Kazaa, Ares, Gnucleus, eMule... if you want it, it's out there.

    Case in point, desire for profit still does give companies incentive to improve upon existing models. The best thing that has ever happened to big corperations was open source - free, creative innovations which they can utilize in their up and coming products. Most of it was way too technologically advanced for the average user (try and explain to your parents how and why you need a 3 partition drive to have Linux and Windows).
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdougNO@SPAMgeekazon.com> on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @12:14AM (#9997777) Homepage
    One subtext of this interview seems to be the inefficiency of capitalism, not in the Econ 101 sense of an "efficient market" but in the real sense of creating the most products or having the greatest impact, while using the least resources and selling at the lowest cost. The publishing economy (software, music, every type of media content) is very inefficient in real terms, with media companies still striving to make as much money off a given work as they did in the days when distributing copies was a physical process.

    The fact that something like OpenOffice, for example, can be created and distributed without spending millions of dollars, is right out there for everybody to see. If the public eventually recognizes it, our long-held perception of the value of a copy of something might change, to the point where newer business models based on real costs are the only ones that will still work. Why should an industry exist to produce something that for all practical purposes grows on trees. The same goes for the recording industry. If bands can generate fame and get better performance gigs by distributing free copies of their songs, there's no need for them to sign away their rights to a record company.

    One obvious way for the old gang to stop this evolution is to outlaw the means that will enable it. Like file sharing.
  • Economics 2.0 (Score:3, Informative)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @12:17AM (#9997792) Homepage
    Charles Stross has a funny riff about this in his SF novel Accelerando, which is currently being serialized intermittently in Asimov's. The novel is coming out this year, I think. Entities running Economics 1.0 are strongly urged not to enter into any contracts with those running 2.0 :-)
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @02:29AM (#9998401) Homepage
    That article sounds like something from the Industry Standard in 1998, during the run-up to the dot-com boom. Been there, done that.

    Some real trends worth following:

    • Too cheap to bill More things are becoming too cheap to bill for. Or, more specifically, the costs of accounting, marketing, billing, and support functions exceed the cost of the delivered product or service. This happened to the Internet some time back. It happened to long distance calls a decade ago. It's happening to telephony, much to the pain of the telecom industry.

      This isn't a new phenomenon. There are many tangible products where the manufacturing cost is a tiny fraction of the retail price. Soft drinks, for example. Bottled water. Jeans. Batteries. Printer ink. There are successful business strategies for pushing the price up, ranging from heavy brand promotion to lock-in. Just because it could be cheap doesn't mean it will be.

      We're starting to see these strategies applied to the Internet. "SBC Yahoo DSL", and "AOL for Broadband" are examples.

    • Unstable markets Some markets are unstable. Electric power. North Atlantic airline tickets. Some commodities. This annoys free-market fanatics no end, but is unsurprising to anyone who understands feedback control system instability. Just because there's an equilibrium point doesn't guarantee the system will settle there. Nor does improving information or reducing delays necessarily improve stability.

      Electric power is a striking example of an unstable market. There's no inventory. Demand is relatively inelastic. Producers have high fixed costs. The result is prices that change by three orders of magnitude within a single day. This huge volatility can be exploited by traders, which makes things worse.

      There's much economic theology around this issue, and not enough theory with predictive power. This area needs more simulation and less pontification.

    • The attention shortage There's a major shortage of attention to advertising messages. Advertising people call this "clutter". Advertising has become a near zero sum game, where vast efforts are made to be more visible than competitors. Advertising cost per unit of product climbs until the product is barely affordable. Neither the buyer nor the seller profits from this; it's a pure cost of competition.

    • The futility of education Education can be viewed as a way to increase one's value relative to others. As a larger fraction of the population is educated, the relative value of education declines. It may decline to a level below the price of the education. This has already happened with much "job retraining" and computer-related "certifications", and is happening for many fields of higher education. This calls into question the basic concept that higher education is a social good.

    • The race for the bottom You know this one. Work moves to very low cost areas. Eventually, those areas do become wealthier, and in theory, everybody wins. But that takes decades. Moving work to low-cost areas now takes only months. This speedup has produced the offshoring movement.

    Now these are the real issues in postmodern capitalism. Not peer to peer networking.

    • by ReciprocityProject (668218) on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @07:49AM (#9999545) Homepage Journal
      The futility of education Education can be viewed as a way to increase one's value relative to others. As a larger fraction of the population is educated, the relative value of education declines. It may decline to a level below the price of the education. This has already happened with much "job retraining" and computer-related "certifications", and is happening for many fields of higher education. This calls into question the basic concept that higher education is a social good.

      Whoa. I hope that was a semantic error, and that you really meant, "This calls into the question the basic concept that higher education is an economic good [for the individual worker]. (I was about to mod you up but had to reply instead.)

      Education offers important benefits other than increasing one's economic value. You need an education (by which I do not mean an indoctrination, an education-that-is-not-an-indoctrination being admittedly very, very hard to come by) to vote intelligently on issues like the economy, environment, energy, and foreign policy. Most of our voting populace is incompetent to make decisions as voters.

      Note that I would never advocate actually restricting someone's right to vote based on whether they have a diploma, or any similarly-spirited criteria, but most of the people voting in the upcoming election will vote for the person who will "fix the economy" and "do the right thing in Iraq," not only without an understanding of the intricacies of those situations, but without an understanding that intricacies actually exist that need to be understood.

      For a demonstration, go out on the street and ask about the relationship between Turkey and Iraq, or between interest rates and inflation, or the drop in biodiversity over the last 300 years, or the vulnerabilities in combat of the "Stryker" tank, or what happens if we never pay off the national debt, or what a nuclear winter is.

      The irony, I think, is that while we're one of the most "over-educated" countries in the world, we're killing ourselves through our own ignorance. It's a catastrophe.
  • by egrinake (308662) <erikg AT codepoet DOT no> on Wednesday August 18, 2004 @10:45AM (#10001403)

    To paraphrase Noam Chomsky; just that communist countries *called* themselves socialist doesn't actually mean they were. Just as some eastern European communist countries called themselves democratic republics, when they obviously were not.

    In fact, the first thing that Lenin did after the communist revolution in Russia was to dimantle the workers organizations and centralize power, in conflict with the socialist ideals. Communism (the russian version) was a perversion of socialism, just like the spanish inquisition was a perversion of christianity.

    What we call capitalism today isn't true free-market capitalism either, even though everyone seems to say it is. In fact, the current capitalist system is highly protectionist (just look at what goes on at the WTO), and western society as it's currently organized would collapse pretty fast if the state stopped intervening in the economic system.

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