My point is not so much that I think OSS must involve spending money but rather that to make a good product for users a lot of relatively dull and tedious jobs are necessary. The incentives that motivate many/most OSS contributors don't tend to align with getting those things done, while commercial/proprietary organisations solve that problem by paying their developers as an incentive.
There's certainly plenty of bad proprietary software out there too, no argument there. But if there's one really unfortunate thing that applies almost across the board in the FOSS world, it's the lack of that user focus.
Most FOSS is developed either by people interested in scratching their own itch (which I'm not at all saying is a problem, but those itches might not be the same as most people's) or by companies that make their money from consulting on it (which can create an unfortunate conflict of interest as far as quality and usability are concerned). Most proprietary software is developed by people or companies whose interest is in scratching as many people's itches as possible so they get paid as often as possible. Those different motivations naturally lead to different kinds of development process and ultimately to different emphases in the resulting software.
Risking capital isn't risk [...] nobody ever died from a bankrupcy filing.
Right. In fact, everyone who starts a small business was rich before, and even if their business collapses while they're pumping their own savings back into it so they can keep paying their employees in a down period, they'll still have plenty of money left over to pay for health insurance and a good school for their kids.
If you really feel that starting a business is an easy choice and carries no real risk, go ahead and do it yourself. There's nothing magic about it, and nothing is stopping you but your own prejudice. Then you can make sure that when you do hire guys to do potentially dangerous manual work, they've got the best safety gear and working conditions and site supervision possible.
I'm guessing you're just trolling, but here are some obvious examples:
My mod points just ran out or you'd have had a (+1, Insightful) for that.
As you say, the major difference between most successful FOSS projects and most successful CCSS ones probably isn't the programming, it's everything else. It's the vision and creativity and market research. It's the willingness and ability to commit entire teams for weeks in a row to completely rewrite an area of the UI that wasn't working quite as well as it could. It's spending time and money to implement tedious file conversion code and license relevant technologies, because people in the real world need to use the de facto standard proprietary formats, even if they are patent-encumbered. It's hiring a team of technical writers and illustrators to produce a user-friendly help system that actually does help. It's spending a small fortune running observation tests with actual users to find the most important problems, and then fixing those first. In short, it's having leadership/management who are user-focussed and able to direct their resources objectively to where they will make the most difference to those users.
I guess my political views aren't quite as passionate as yours on some issues, but I agree that we seem to have forgotten how to be politically moderate and how to balance opposing views and look for the best in each of them. A lot of mainstream politicians talk about being in the centre, but actions speak louder than words, and we have seen a lot of very polarising policies advocated in recent years. I suspect this has a lot to do with 24 hour news cycles and sound-bite PR, but maybe it was always that way and I'm just getting old enough to be cynical about it now.
I think we probably agree on many of the fundamental points here, even if our experience of the effectiveness of the current system and how hard kids are working has been a little different. There's definitely an element of rose-tinted spectacles when we look back to our own time at school, to be sure. I also agree that people should stop thinking their own generation was somehow better academically than anyone else's; I just think that cuts both ways, and the people involved in the system today would do well to acknowledge what may have been lost as well as what may have been gained.
Anyway, thanks for an interesting discussion.
And you are doing a great service to the 45% that previously wouldn't have had the chance of higher education, giving them the opportunity to improve themselves and be the best that they can be.
Where's the downsides?
Well, I'm not sure that swapping three years of experience in their chosen vocation and the income and freedom that come with it for three years racking up debts that will burden them for many years afterwards, all on the promise that their degree in some artificial subject will somehow improve their long term prospects, is really doing anyone any favours. I'm all for supporting education for education's sake, and for everyone being educated to the highest standard they are willing and able to reach; I'm not talking about that here. What I'm talking about is pushing young people who could have been successful in another vocation down an academic track paved with false promises.
I think your claim about people going on to do PhDs is unrealistic, too, FWIW, but let's not get bogged down in that one.
Back on the topic of schools, kids now work harder than we ever did at school, and come out knowing more than we did.
Do they? Really? I don't know how old you are or what generation of exams you took yourself, but I was taking GCSEs a couple of decades ago. Looking at the way things have changed, sure, it's good to get past rote learning of facts or recitals of works that ten seconds on their smartphones could find for them. But a lot of the new material that has replaced that rote learning seems to be little more than vague waffle about ill-defined subjects.
I don't see any signs that kids are developing better mathematical aptitude, only that too many seem to need calculators to do basic arithmetic these days and don't notice obvious errors in results because they seem to have little intuition -- very much the opposite to the claimed changes. Do kids today really spend more time in labs conducting the basic experiments that formed the foundation of today's scientific understanding? Have they gained a better ability to construct a logical argument in maths or write persuasively in English? Do they speak foreign languages with basic conversational fluency and confidence when they go abroad on holiday? Are they aware of pivotal events in history, how they happened, and the lessons we can learn from them? To me, all of these things would be valuable alternatives to rote learning, but none of the school age kids I know give the impression that they're significantly better off in these respects than your or I would have been in our day.
So while we're in complete agreement about the value of teaching kids to think and research, it seems we might disagree on how effectively these things have been learned under the systems of the past few years, and perhaps I also feel that more textbook knowledge is still useful than you would argue, simply on the basis that without context and examples and a general knowledge of the field it's tough to know where to start. What use is Wikipedia, if you have no idea that a relevant topic exists or what to search for to find it?
With hindsight, that's very clear. If we had done so, we'd be in much the same position as Germany, except that with our economy based strongly (probably much too strongly) on the financial sector rather than robust manufacturing and service sectors, we might have found that position even more uncomfortable.
At this point, if anything I'd say the opposite is happening: public sentiment that has been questioning the whole EU deal for a long time in some political circles has now become overwhelmingly anti-Europe almost across the board. People see an economic disaster that they don't want any part of, and more than that, they see levels of corruption and governments flailing around unable to fix the problems in ways that make even the most controversial administrations we've had over here in living memory seem almost mild by comparison. Ironically, this might be the one issue that trumps the economy at our next general elections in 2015, which is why all of the major political parties are testing the waters and putting campaign feelers out even now.
We're drifting a bit off-topic here, but I just wanted to say that I think education actually was one of the other areas where any incoming government was going to be doomed before they even took office.
For years, our education system at secondary and tertiary levels has been based on fantasy. Standards haven't really risen dramatically for decades for secondary school leavers, but it's easier to appease parents and teachers by pretending they have than to pick the fight. You can't really put 50% of each generation through university and expect that the degrees they come out with will get all of them the kinds of graduate jobs that used to be available when only 5-10% of each generation continued on to university. You certainly can't do that, and then not only remove financial support but actively charge a small fortune for the privilege, leaving entire generations saddled with debts before they even start their first real job, and then expect that there will be no negative consequences.
Unfortunately, anything that would fix these problems requires acknowledging that the teaching profession has been covering its collective backside for years rather than confronting the small but significant fraction of professional teachers who simply aren't up to the job. It requires admitting (or at least understanding) that the quality of teaching at universities is often pathetic, and that being an illustrious institution with an international reputation to protect does not change this. It requires honestly confronting falling standards and recognising that the entire basis of our higher education system is unsustainable and economically crippling a generation. It will take big changes to fix these things one way or another, but it was a constant pressure for change and improvement that created many of the underlying problems in the first place, so what to do?
Gove himself is a slightly odd character to me, because half of the time I feel like he's the first Education Secretary we've had in years who actually has the guts to stand up and tell it as it is, but the other half of the time I wonder where he dreamt up this or that crazy idea and what he was smoking when he thought alienating this or that major part of the education profession would help.
I think in the UK context, "austerity" is mostly just a political/media buzzword of the moment. We're somewhat isolated from the Eurozone chaos here, and although people borrow the word, I don't think there's any real similarity between economic conditions in the UK (not great but mostly recovered from the worst of the credit crunch) and economic conditions in continental Europe (riots on the streets, ordinary people worrying about basic everyday needs, unelected governments taking power, mass cash grabs on bank accounts, fundamental destruction of trust in essential political and financial systems by the general population).
More generally, austerity seems to have been a moderately disastrous panic reaction to the unsustainable political and economic models used in many Eurozone countries and the doubtful future of the Eurozone as a whole while member states have such vast differences in their economic strengths. I'm not an economics expert, so maybe I'm just failing to appreciate some subtlety of what the governments in question were really hoping to achieve, but from a lay person's perspective it seems like they dived into a knee-jerk cost-cutting spree without having a plan for the end-game. As a result, while they have cut some costs (no bad thing in many of the countries in question), they also seem to have undermined everyday life and with it any prospect of economic growth in the near future. As far as I can tell, the entire economic foundation of the Eurozone now consists of one part underwriting by economic giants like Germany and a second part that is basically 100% funny money, mixed in debatable proportions and with a liberal measure of wishful thinking to top it off. I'm therefore expecting further spectacular collapses before we're done, unfortunately.
To be fair, the incoming government this time was going to inherit a poisoned chalice in so many ways that whoever won they would never have a fighting chance. The only strategic difference was that Labour basically knew they had no chance of winning outright before the election campaign even started, so they could safely poison the well knowing that even in their worst plausible outcome they would have someone to share the blame with in a coalition.
I'm not convinced that most European governments really have any idea what they're doing right now, but I'm also not convinced that anyone else who was running for election would have done much better from the same starting point, including either of the parties currently in coalition in the UK if they had won outright.
If we're going to debate this, we need to be careful to distinguish between the scope of government and the efficiency of government.
Personally, I'd be the first to agree that many western governments have far too broad a scope today and the public sector has become unsustainably large. That's a real economic problem, and sooner or later someone's going to have to deal with it.
But on the efficiency question, the evidence is not nearly so clear. It's easy to find spectacular examples of government inefficiency and horrendous waste, but it's also easy to find spectacular success stories where nationalised, government-run infrastructure dramatically outperforms private, commercial provision of the equivalent services in other places. And some functions really have to be reserved to some form of government at a basic level, unless you want to start outsourcing things like making laws and starting wars to private industry.
For this discussion, the key point to me is that as long as there is any area that government is responsible for operating, there needs to be some way to pay for it. It would be fascinating to see what would happen if we had some radically different mechanism for doing that instead of what we have today, but until we've discovered a way to try something else without undermining the basic fabric of our societies, taxation is the least worst option we've found so far. The amount of taxation that is justified is a quantitative question and relates to both the efficiency and the scope of government, and the division of that tax burden among taxpayers is again something to be debated, but the principle that people/businesses should make a contribution in return for valuable government services (whatever those might be) is a reasonable one.
Just to be clear, I'm looking at all of this from a UK perspective.
There are some professions that are very well-paid, if and when you make it to the higher levels. You mentioned doctors, so let's consider that. Those hospital consultants and GPs who are earning a tidy living at 40 were probably junior doctors at 25. Maybe it's different in the US, but in the UK that means working around twice as many hours as most of us do, severely limiting social life and relationships and several years, and getting paid a fairly feeble wage, certainly far less than anyone with the drive and aptitude to become a senior doctor later could be earning in another field. Even when they become senior doctors, these are people who may be charged with making decisions that are literally life and death, and a lot of them are still working pretty long hours with all the admin that comes with those jobs on top of their clinical work. I don't think paying those people a high wage is at all unreasonable in return for all they did earlier in their lives to get there and in recognition of the skill and experience that they possess as a result. If you want an insult, bundle people like that in the "rich" pile with movie stars, celebrity sportspeople, and old money inheritors who might never have put in an honest day's work in their lives.
As for the entrepreneurs, you're quite right that it's a big risk and many people lose even if they do nothing wrong, but I think it's laughable to pretend that "everyone" works as hard and takes the same level of risk and makes the same level of sacrifice in life. Anyone who is bootstrapping a new business is probably giving up a lot that they could have had and done in order to get that business going, and even if the business is successful it will be paying tax itself and probably contributing to the economy by employing further people before it pays out any big profits. Again, it seems crazy to me that we might look at someone who has maybe risked all their savings, delayed having a family, learned a multitude of useful skills, basically given up a few years of their lives to get a business going, and then if their business is successful still begrudge them earning even 2-3x what they could easily have made in a regular day job. And yet, that is where the top tax rate in the UK kicks in at the moment.
The people at Apple and Google worked hard to earn that money, why should it be stolen from them to pay for giveaways to non-workers
Because while taxation may be tantamount to theft and it may be inherently evil and it may be desirable to minimise it as much as possible, we haven't yet found a more effective way to fund government services, and at least some of the services governments provide are valuable, including to those people at Apple and Google.