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GNU is Not Unix

Free Software And Its Revolutionary Social Implications 336

Jizzbug writes: "OpenFlows has an interesting interview with Stefan Merten (of Oekonux in Germany) on the implications of Free Software in regards to social change (for the better). It'd be interesting to see what kind of famous Slashdot flamewar will erupt in response to the ideas set forth in this interview. Those in the audience that are freethinking and not jingoistic should find this a very enlightening and entertaining read."
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Free Software And Its Revolutionary Social Implications

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  • Contrast this interview with For The Love Of Open Source [slashdot.org], which says that Open Source is perfectly rational in a capitalistic society. I think that is more convincing.
    • Why contrast? The interview first goes into depts to explain the differences between Open and Free. Then it continues to debate the benefits and revolutionary properties (?) of Free Software. The article you mention is explicitly about Open Source Software.
      Since both articles are about different issues I find contrasting them a little bit difficult at best, and pointless at worst.

      Although the article has some strong points, especially the artificially created shortage of goods by protecting them with IP laws, a comparison of Free Software with Marxism is quite far stretched IMHO.
      But it is still a very appealing model for me.

      • The first article goes into why it seems that Open Source is incompatible with usual capitalism, but is not. People join Open Source projects not because they want to give something back or because they have a wealth surplus, but because they expect to economically gain from it.

        The second article thinks that Open Source heralds the second coming of Socialism and will ultimately defeat Capitalism and the reason for production. (Each accordin to it's needs).
        • Which article is first and second here?! And where the heck do you get this "second coming of Socialism" nonsense?

          The article on firstmonday.org not once suggested that Free Software would undermine Capitalism, in fact showed why the existence of Free Software was essentially a product of traditional capitalist theory-- and sought to criticize works like ESRs C&B insomuch as C&B promoted the notion that Free Software was the result of some radical shift in culture specific to hackers.

          The article at govtech.com clearly discusses why several world governments are looking at Free Software, and their primary reasons are national pride and national security-- with an emphasis on the latter. They don't want to be beholden to an American corpooration, especially when that company might either purposefully (with backdoors) or accidentally (by hiding mistakes until too late) compromise national security in those nations.

          Neither of these articles puts any weight behind a single economic or political system or another. Simply because China is nominally Communist, this reflects nothing about their reasons for adopting Linux. Germany and France are both in the Linux-leaning camp and they are both solid democracies and capitalist economies.
        • My apologies... for some reason I thought I was in the comments section for the government security and linux story!
  • by os2fan ( 254461 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2001 @05:38AM (#2686157) Homepage
    Open source gives people the opportunity to get involved in software of their choosing. It allows for people to have a bigger say in this fast standardising world. It allows people to support "non-commercially-approved" ventures. And it allows community interests to create more adventerous progects.

    I'm waiting for the day when we start to have tools that allow UI interfaces to be designed on the fly, kind of like a TeX for the UI.

    • I'm waiting for the day when we start to have tools that allow UI interfaces to be designed on the fly, kind of like a TeX for the UI.
      Heh heh...wouldn't it be subversive if you could change the GUI of MS Word? Of course, this kind of user-configurability that MS wants to make sure you don't have -- look how they're fighting like crazy to retain control of the startup screen in Windows.

      Another interesting example is that Tim Berners-Lee originally designed the WWW with (1) the ability to view source code to any web page, (2) a WYSIWYG interface for making your own web pages, and (3) the ability to link backwards. Only #1 still exists as part of the standard, default WWW. #3 would be really cool, but it would definitely get International Corporations'(tm) panties in a twist. Imagine if, instead of registering nestlesucks.com and trying to attract visitors to it, I could just back-link from nestle.com to my page. There I could explain how their infant formula causes thousands of babies to die of diarrhea every year in the third world: Nestle tries to convince women that formula is healthier than breast milk, even though the local water supplies are unsafe.

  • Like most of human activity, I believe that Open Source development is compelled by forces that defy categorization or even a very convincing explaination.

    Theorize away! Academics will build their arguments and even create detailed demographies [firstmonday.org], without a demonstrable conclusion. And still, the development will continue, undisturbed.

  • by nusuth ( 520833 ) <oooo_0000us&yahoo,com> on Tuesday December 11, 2001 @05:51AM (#2686181) Homepage
    When I see interviews or articles like this one, I always wonder where people get the idea that computer programs are something like other commodities. Computers are not like any other production tool invented in the whole history of man, computers are general purpose. That is whatever you do with a screwdriver is set (that does not mean you can't find creative uses for it) but with different computer programs and a little bit of hardware you can make a computer do whatever you like. Therefore computer programs are giving a useful existance to computers, without them nothing can be done by computers. Producing one for your own needs is relatively easy (how could you make a car yourself, ground up?), getting, changing and sending one is much to easier than with physical goods. The only major investment is time in producing one.

    On the other hand producing physical goods require physical resources. A physical good is not instantly transportable, infinitely reproduceable and generally doesn't stay the way it was during usage. The tools for producing them are specialized and one can do very little to change them without those tools. People do and will need physical goods.

    Therefore drawing conclusions about general econmic trends by observing trends in open source/free software concepts/community is fundementally wrong. There are just too many differences. Unless/until somebody invents a general purpose things builder (like you give it blueprints and the machine creates whatever it is out of dirt) a true information society is not be possible, and open source ideas ar not applicable to general economy.

    • (how could you make a car yourself, ground up?)

      Well I've never attempted a car, though I know it is done. However my Great uncle made several tractors from the ground up after he retired. Sure you need special tools, but it isn't hard to make the tools, and if you don't want to buy iron it isn't hard to mine the ore and refine it. (I could do it in my backyard, but I live in a area with a lot of low grade iron ore. worthless to industry, but there) Obviously time is a factor, the more you try to do yourself, the less finished product you can do.

      Search the internet and you will find many pictures of engines that people have built themselves for their hobby.

      To someone who knows (or is willing to learn) their way around a machine shop the above is about as difficult as writing a non-trivial program. Perhaps easier, Linux is still working on linux 10 years later, while my great-uncle built 10 tractors in 10 years. (Though he was retired, so time comparitions are bogus)

      • There's quite a huge barrier to entry building tractors or cars though. It requires many specialized physical tools that cost money.

        The barrier to entry writing free/open source software is incredibly low. All it requires is a computer (modem & phone line make it much easier). I have received many free computers that other people considered obsolete, and continued using them for practical purposes.

        A good example of this is all the software development that's being contracted to people in Russia, India, & other places with few resources.
      • my Great uncle made several tractors from the ground up

        My granddad and three associates built a car from the ground up. That was back when everyone in the country wanted to start a car company. There were 200 established automobile makers by the early '20s, and many more attempts - like granddad's - that didn't quite establish themselves.

        What happenned of course was Henry Ford, and the assembly line were the individual worker didn't have to know how to build a car from the ground up, but just how to put together a small piece of it as it got to his station on the assembly line.

        Free software has some resonance with Ford's method. While Linus built a kernel "from the ground up," a lot of the effectiveness of the method is because one guy can stay at one station and just work on a single, special-purpose utility (say, fetchmail). That's how must of it happens - individuals or small teams working on something only they need to fully understand, because it fits in a standardized framework - apt-get or rpm or ./configure-make-make install is all the general building capability most folks need.

        The odd thing about Ford was that, while he devised a system for people with less knowledge and capability, individually, to be more productive, he didn't pay them less - instead he paid them several times more than what workers with much more knowledge and ability were getting working in "build each one from the ground up" car concerns. He response to the supposed "alienation of labor" was to be sure his labor could afford the cars they were building, and so not be alienated from them.

        Of course, by the '30s Ford was a big Hitler fan - he really believed in sweeping, utopian reorganizations of society. And of course the issue in software isn't between building from the ground up or just filling one station well, but between starting with a vehicle resistant to customization deeper than the paint (or wallpaper), and one that's easy to hotrod, with many custom parts and plans available - one with more freedom.

        Anyone bringing Marx into this should specify in what way Marx was wrong when he declared that "freedom" is just capitalist ideological cover, and valuing freedom to be "false consciousness." The real historical motion has been, long term, towards more freedom - the essence of capitalism is freedom in the markets for both goods and capital. Free software is nothing but the further extension of the historical wave of freedom. As such, what can it learn from Marx, who thought freedom a cruel fraud, and wanted societies to retreat from it?

        It is the hope of every fascist, marxist and fundamentalist that people will back off from their movement towards ever greater spheres of freedom. Free software is a small way of saying no to their dreams of retreat for the many, and enthronement for themselves.

    • Unless/until somebody invents a general purpose things builder (like you give it blueprints and the machine creates whatever it is out of dirt) a true information society is not be possible

      What you say is absolutely true. One of my favorite quotes goes: "What the computer revolution did for manipulating data, the nanotechnology revolution will do for manipulating matter, juggling atoms like bits." -- Ralph Merkle [merkle.com]

      Right now, we're necessarily stuck between these complementary revolutions (by quite a few decades--seems to be the natural order of things), and most of our (IP greed) problems stem from the this.

      We have general purpose computers, but no general purpose "replicators" yet. And so, since food, and other goods/services, are still physically scarce, some people will want... no, need... to make information artificially scarce in order to inflate its value enough to exchange it for food.

      But once the necessities of life are essentially free, society can at long last end the rat-race and live in a stress-free gift economy (99.5%); a life based on fulfillment, rather than mundane survival. Oh, and just because capitalism isn't a driving force anymore, it doesn't erase the human COMPETITIVE forces at work; progress will still continue without the fear of starving.

      (the other 0.5% is the amount of capitalism we would still need. You know... a form of "privelage currency" that you can strive for in order to trade for physically scarce things like prime Earth real-estate on the beach, or to meet a physically scarce celebrity, or to grease that NWO politician, or what have you.)

    • When I see interviews or articles like this one, I always wonder where people get the idea that computer programs are something like other commodities. Computers are not like any other production tool invented in the whole history of man, computers are general purpose.

      Whoa, there! (gee, moving to Texas is rubbing off on me)

      Don't be so quick to throw out a useful model (i.e. capitalist economy).

      First, of all, other things are general purpose as well: a pen or pencil can be used to write many different things in different styles, a stove can be used to cook different kinds of food, etc. There are limits to their generality, of course, but the same is true of a computer: a computer can be used to develop and run code, but not cook dinner (at least not without an appropriate interface).

      Similarly, do not dismiss Free Software as not fitting in a capitalist economy. Eric Raymond's observations about egoboo and gift economies are not simply a feeble attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole. The essence of capitalism is that exchange of goods and services leads to greater value for all voluntary participants. The only thing special about Free Software is that value is not derived from possession of a scarce good, but rather an automated means to reduce effort.

      To continue: the worth of a program is the automation of a task that it provides. This value is not lost if the program is shared, but is very much a real, tangible value: an accounting program saves me the trouble of balancing my books by hand. Because programs have value, the effort to produce them is undertaken: while the program provides value every time it is run, the effort to write the program need only be expended once. It just depends on how badly one wants the corresponding process automated.

      The collaborative process traditional with major, popular, Free Software progrms is nothing more than capitalist efficiency at work: the efficiency provided by a cooperative. If the development effort can be spread out, but the fruits of the labour freely replicated, the cooperative mechanism provides tremendous efficiency: for minimal effort, one can contribute to the production of a program that provides value not diluted by the number of contributors.

      None of this is inconsistent with capitalism.

      However, there is a wrinkle to all this that is, perhaps, inconsistent with capitalism. So far I've been describing utility value: the value that a program has to reduce work through automation. However, if a program is scarce, it also has value because of it's scarcity. In a world where the right to use and share a program can be restricted, via, for example, license and copyright, it is natural that a program can be made scarce, in the legal sense.

      It also serves a valuable purpose: people who could not otherwise contribute to the development of a program can fund it's development by paying to license it. Such scare software can not, by definition, be freely shared, but this does not detract from the value it's creation provides to those who pay to license it and those who are paid to create it. Of course, once created, and paid for by enough licensees, there is no need to maintain scarcity, save the desire to leverage the scarcity itself for pure profit on the part of the program writer or writers.

      Even this is not inherently evil: if there is risk in not finding enough willing licencees for a piece of scare software, then surely there should be the potential reward of more than enough. Note that, since this risk is minimized for the developer with subscribed production of software (that is, development starts, when there are enough committed licensees), the moral justification for continued artificial scarcity drops. However, suscribed-software production is a rarity. Perhaps, because the production risk has been transfered to the subscribers: there is no guarantee that what is produced, if anything, will work, or be what they want. The closest we have to subscribed-software production is public ownership of corporate producers of scarce sofware.

      Yet another facet of the scarce software phenomenon is the willingness of it's users to put up with the scarcity. But, there is an advantage to them to do this: it excludes those who can not afford to license the software from benefitting from it's value. Some of those others might be competitors of the willing licensees and by excluding them from access to scarce software that would reduce their operating costs, a competetive advantage is gained. This is the classic "barrier to entry" in a market.

      So, artificial software scarcity permits the production of software where otherwise there would be none, by providing for an increased reward in the face of increased risk. For those who would argue that the availability of software, at any price, is better than the non-availability of same, this is in no way immoral. Nevertheless, there is this nagging feeling that the production of similar free (i.e. non-scarce) software is somehow "better", and "more fair", because no one is excluded from the benefits it provides, and no one suffers from a loss of utility value because of others' gain thereof. The counter, of course, is that because production of new things of value is not bad, the benefits derived from any scarcity value associated with their production are not ill-gotten.

      And here lies the rub: scarcity value is threatened by the abundance that Free Software represents, and the moral justification for scarcity value driven production is erased when non-scarce alternatives are available. Free Software production, conversly, is threatened by the lure of benefits available to those who seek to derive value from scarcity. No wonder both Microsoft and RMS are upset about the consequences of each other's philosophies!

      Given that the moral justification for scarce software production evaporates when free alternatives are available, does that mean that such production should be, somehow, outlawed? No, this is not necessary, and would presume that no one derives value from the differences between free and scarce versions of the same software. It is not necessary, because a free market will naturally result in abandonment of a scarce good when a cheaper (yes, free as in beer) alternative is available that is perceived to be just as useful. Of course, it would be imoral to try to interfere with such a transition. It is fortuitous indeed then, that free as in speech does go hand in hand with free as in beer.

      Perhaps that is the transition away from "a capitalist" ecomomy that is being described -- the replacement of scarce goods with non-scarce ones. But it is wrong to view this as somehow non-capitalist -- post-scarcity, perhaps, as far as software is concerend, but certainly very capitalist. And indeed, it would be folly to try to extend this to goods and services that do not have the potential non-scarce attributes of software.

      • Wow! I wish I mod points.

        That was the most insightful comment in the free software vs. open source debate yet, & on any topic in /. in quite a while.
      • This was an insightful comment, as it goes right to the core: Within the current paradigm, it is hard to envision that it is possible to make sufficient money to pay for the costs of software development.

        However, does it really have to be that way, that the only way to make reasonable profits is by creating artificial scarcity? It's no natural law.

        Software is no essential part of living, thus, creating artificial scarcity for software is something that we can live with, at least for some time.

        But how about food...? People are starving... Food is a scarce resource, but in a nano-tech world, it doesn't need to be. Then, if people are starving, creating artificial scarcity would be immoral.

        You see it with AIDS drugs too. While software is very different from drugs (in the former case, it is not about prize, and the latter case, it is all about prize), it has some of the same issues: How do we ensure that R&D can be continued without enforcing scarcity on the drugs.

        I think it is something that needs to be addressed. Really, artificial scarcity must be abandoned on the long term, it just isn't sustainable. I think it is imperative that all good thinkers come together and think about how continued research and development can be done without creating artificial scarcity.

        Indeed, we do not have the solution, and great caution is required in future efforts, but I welcome very much discussions on how to make a world that does not depend on artificial scarcity for profit.

        • Within the current paradigm, it is hard to envision that it is possible to make sufficient money to pay for the costs of software development.

          However, does it really have to be that way, that the only way to make reasonable profits is by creating artificial scarcity? It's no natural law.

          Clearly it doesn't have to be that way, else we'd have no free software at all.

          But, it would help at this point to agree on a definition of profit. Let me suggest the following: "Profit is the perceived increase of value obtained as a result of an exchange." Thus, profit is individual: both parties in a voluntary exchange can be said to have profited. Of course, partucular exchanges can be viewed as profitable from the point of view of many people: since we all need to eat, any hungry person will view the exchange of non-food items for food-items, or money to buy same, as profitable.

          Individuals profit in a cooperative two ways: by reducing the average production costs through economies of scale (traditional cooperatives), or by leveraging their contributions that can be reproduced with little or no cost in exchange for a copy of the whole (free software cooperatives). Where the investment per individual is perceived as small, and the gain as large, there is little need for an artificial scarcity to inflate this gain. Thus, free software in the GPL sense (which prohibits redistribution of proprietary derived works for moral reasons), and BSD sense (which permits this for the advantage of wider distribution, use, and hopefully support) both flourish. However, traditional "Cathedral" software of any complexity requires some degree of artificial scarcity.

          It is easy to show why this is so. Because it is developed without the resources of a voluntary "Bazaar" of contributers, the per-contributer costs are high. Once developed, the reproduction costs are negligable. However, the investment needs to be recouped. Thus, the artificial scarcity. When we look at development of complex free software without the benefit of a large bazaar of contributors, it progresses ever so slowly because the investments of individual contributors are much larger and need to be ammortized over "free" time. This is why the Hurd is so long in coming: it's use of a micro-kernel is revolutionary (well, not so much any more), whereas Linux is based on tried an true (albeit limiting) techniques -- Linux (I speak of the kernel, here) attracts more developers because it is more accessable. GNU/Linux attracts more developers because the spec and path are clear: make it look like a traditional Unix.

          So, where the need for a particular kind of software, particularly among developers of software, is wide-spread, production of implementations that are not artificially scarce can and does happen.

          Software is no essential part of living, thus, creating artificial scarcity for software is something that we can live with, at least for some time.

          This is true of anything new: the idea is that the producer of a new and valuable thing be rewarded for his intellectual contribution to knowledge and practical contribution to society. The problem is that the legal mechanisms we use to make this reward possible, can also lead to a runaway effect -- the framers of the U.S. Constitution were wise to envision copyright for a limited duration. The same is true of patents. It is very difficult, though, to decide how much artificial scarcity is "too much, too long". In practice, the issue has traditionally been resolved by force, either via an unruly mob, or a "legitimate" government. Hardly civilized.

          But how about food...? People are starving... Food is a scarce resource, but in a nano-tech world, it doesn't need to be. Then, if people are starving, creating artificial scarcity would be immoral.

          Again, the artificial scarcity is useful in rewarding those who create a desired thing that does not exist yet. If people are starving because of a grain blight, and it costs millions and the use of sophisticated technology to produce a resistant varient of the desired crop, far better that the rich get the crop than no one (at least it will exist to be stolen). It should be noted, though, that many have argued that much world hunger occurs not for lack of world food production, but because of repressive political regimes.

          Artificial scarcity creates allows the skewing of reward vs. risk to make ventures worthwhile. Unfortunately, it creates a self-perpetuating profit machine feedback mechanism that is difficult to damp. I suspect that is the real problem with it.

          You see it with AIDS drugs too. While software is very different from drugs (in the former case, it is not about prize, and the latter case, it is all about prize), it has some of the same issues: How do we ensure that R&D can be continued without enforcing scarcity on the drugs.

          Well, enforced scarcity requires a source of force to do the enforcing. There are two disparate views here: government regulation and the free market.

          Government regulation can certainly limit "abuse" of artificial scarcity, when such abuse is perceived by the public at large. Witness recent talk of lifting the patent on Cipro in order to combat wide-spread Anthrax infection (which I think is an overblown risk, but I digress). Perhaps public will can drive government policy toward restricting "excessive profit via artificial scarcity".

          The free market supporters, however, note that any government strong enough to do good is also strong enough to do evil: power corrupts, after all. Recently we appear to see a feedback mechanism between "abusers" of artificial scarcity and the purported government regulation of same: corporatism arises because artificial scarcity leads to greater profits and money is more desirable than votes, in the long run. All the government should do, then, is not prevent alternatives to artificially scarce goods from being developed and offered -- at some point the cost of development of an alternative will be less than the cost of licensing the scarce version because of greed on the part of the producer.

          Certainly, some will note that, without government legitimised force, natural free market processes will not occur fast enough. But, that is a debate for another day.

          I think it is something that needs to be addressed. Really, artificial scarcity must be abandoned on the long term, it just isn't sustainable.

          As much as I am a libertarian, I agree: Artificial scarcity is useful, and consistent with the belief that the individual control what he produces. But I do not think that such scarcity need continue in perpetuity in order for it's benefits (creation of new things with high development costs) to be reaped. The biq question of course, is how is the artificial scarcity to be ended? I do not subscribe to the idea that a strong government is the right way to do it.

          I think it is imperative that all good thinkers come together and think about how continued research and development can be done without creating artificial scarcity.

          Yes, anything that reduces the need for an artificial scarcity bugagoo would be a good thing. Subscription models are one idea. Legal protections for "excessive" artificial scarcity are another (i.e. patents on the obvious). But we must tread carefully here, lest we stifle a voluntary mechanism that helps fuel progress.

          Indeed, we do not have the solution, and great caution is required in future efforts, but I welcome very much discussions on how to make a world that does not depend on artificial scarcity for profit.

          Agreed.

      • I like what you have to say; however I don't think this has anything whatsoever to do with capitalism. Free market, perhaps; but not capitalism. Capitalism is the leverage of a reserve of capital to create profit, i.e. investment. That's why it's called capitalism.
  • by TZA14a ( 9984 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2001 @06:28AM (#2686250) Homepage
    All the talk about the decline of the labor society and a new economy that is going to develop because information is not scarce by nature is not very new.

    I've read it before in lotss free software essays of varying quality, but there's still no explanation offered on how this is going to put food on my table (not in the way of making money, but in the way of literally producing the stuff and shipping it to the store around the corner), or build a computer, for that matter. I agree that the community can whip up a microprocessor design, but I'm not sure about the billion-dollar semiconductor plant to produce it...

    How would that be handled, by waiting for people who think it's a cool idea? They'd have to wait for people who think it's a cool idea to build all those manufacturing tools and so on... In short, I don't think this can work.

  • I think people need to seperate the two halves of this article into "Free vs Open Source" and "Free Software and capitalism".

    The first half gives a very informative account of the rift between Free Software and Open Source which is often overlooked, despite its being repeatedly stated by the Free Software Foundation. "Open Source" is about releasing source code for programs to increasive the quality of the product, and the productivity of the project. "Free Software" is about releasing the source code under a binding lisence to ensure all end users have the freedom to use the program as they wish. People love to scoff at "GNU/Linux" enthusiasts, but they forget that the Linux kernel is under the GNU GPL, and that without The GNU PRoject it's unlikely the Linux project would ever have grown so large.

    There's also a tendency to talk of more links with proprietary software. There have been so many articles on /. of late where columnists laud StarOffice and Macromedia Flash because they're "flashy and cool", and who suggest that the open source and free software communities should embrace proprietary software, miss the point entirely. GNU/Linux only developed so quickly because of it's open source development, and we can only use it in the ways we love because so much of it is released under the GPL. It's an important point to keep in mind.

    As for the discussion of Marxism in relation to Free Software, I'm sure plenty of ignoramuses will be posting saying how the author of the article must be a communist pig, and that he obviously wants to hijack Linux to take down President Bush. Hmm. Righto. It's an interesting discussion, though I get this sinking feeling whenever I hear the words "Marxism" and "contemporary" in the same sentence, given that so many of his ideas are completely outdated (like his idea of shareholders, being the workers in the companies, as opposed to the opportunist investors of today).
    • I think people need to seperate the two halves of this article into "Free vs Open Source" and "Free Software and capitalism".

      Alright ... you go do that ... because you and RMS are the only ones who care.

      People love to scoff at "GNU/Linux" enthusiasts, but they forget that the Linux kernel is under the GNU GPL, and that without The GNU PRoject it's unlikely the Linux project would ever have grown so large.

      *EEEEMMMPPP* wrong again *EEEEMMMPPP* Linux is so big because of peoples desire for options and a desire to create. Without the GNU project it would still be open source and would still thrive. It's because the GNU is a leech on the computer world and can't get their own OS working that GNU openly endorsed linux. GNU slaps its name on all kinds of things, but that's all it is ... a brand name.

      There have been so many articles on /. of late where columnists laud StarOffice and Macromedia Flash because they're "flashy and cool", and who suggest that the open source and free software communities should embrace proprietary software, miss the point entirely.

      You show me where I can eat, sleep, live, and be comfortable for free ... and I'll start liking the boring blinking console. Until that time ... I'll keep using the "flashy and cool stuff.

      As for the discussion of Marxism in relation to Free Software, I'm sure plenty of ignoramuses will be posting saying how the author of the article must be a communist pig, and that he obviously wants to hijack Linux to take down President Bush.

      Here ... from your beloved gnu.org

      The $5000 Deluxe Distribution includes all GNU software compiled for your choice of computing platform (microchip and operating system). Please contact the FSF Office if you are interested.

      Yup, righto that's $5K American dollars for FREE software ... which absolutely amazes me because you would think they would just charge for the cost of the production because they don't really like money. But companies like cheapbytes are bad because they're a capitalistic company trying to spread linux at an affordable cost ... right?

      And in the light of capitalism I will quote cartman "AH! I think yer all a bunch of goddamme hippies"

      • "Without the GNU project it would still be open source and would still thrive. "

        Difficult to say really. Without the GNU project most linux systems around would be unusable, and barely functional. Whether someone else would have code replacements is an open question.

        "It's because the GNU is a leech on the computer world and can't get their own OS working that GNU openly endorsed linux. "

        I think that RMS's renaming to "GNU/Linux" is really flogging a dead horse. However he is entirely correct in pointing out that Linux is a kernal only. As I remember it Linus' first test that it was working was to stick bash on it, which is of course gnu software.

        GNU might be considered to be a leech, but its a strange leech, as large amounts of the software that I use every day were written by the Gnu project, from my editor, to my shell, and most of the basic commands that I use.

        "Yup, righto that's $5K American dollars for FREE software ... "

        Yes. Its free if you want it that way, and 5k dollars if you want to spend it. If you don't then you can download it, and build it for all the platforms for free.

        The GNU project has to live in this world. This means that they need money to run their servers, provide their network plug, and pay for some of their programmers. It offers distributions and manuals as a good way of making this money. You can always make their products at no cost if you choose.

        Phil
  • In todays world the driving force of the global economy is the human brain. Thoughts occur, and are solidified into products.

    The quicker you solidify your thoughts into products the more likely you are to achieve a state of temporary monopoly.

    The more novel your thought, the more likely you are to achieve a state of temporary monopoly.

    Free Software is simply a collection of solidified thoughts which the originating individuals decided not to sell, but to give.

    This will never change the fundamentals of a temporary monopoly driven economy. It may take the cost away from certain areas. Communication gets cheaper every day - travel was expensive, then telegrams were cheaper, then telephone calls were cheaper, now email is cheaper, in most cases its free. This in no way changed the capitalist nature of society - it simply oiled the wheels.

    Linux does the same thing. I can start up a small software company with a PC and Free Software, or with a PC and MS software. The first way is cheaper, therefore more likely to happen - if the Free Software is as good, or better, than the MS I am also more likely to succeed.

    If Dell could start with $1000 (which he did) back in the day the next 'big thing' could be starting today with a second hand PC and Linux - total cost $500. Capitalism rocks.

    Sorry if this is off topic - but I've got WAAAYY too much Karma - its no fun anymore ;-)
  • *sigh* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Afty0r ( 263037 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2001 @06:42AM (#2686265) Homepage
    No matter how important the 'information industry' becomes, we will never be able to replace our basic needs such as food, warmth, clothing and water.

    What these leftist and marxist supporters like to believe is that given a nice society everyone will contribute like a good little puppy, what they neglect to face up to is reality : there are bottom feeders everywhere, and there always will be. People leech and feed from the profit of others when they can, and the only way other than (financial/material) incentives to make a population work is at the wrong end of a gun.

    As countless visionary rulers have discovered over time, this approach works well for a short period of time, but the population is unhappy, the system suddenly no longer works, violent overthrow occurs, and we start a new system.

    As disgusted as I am by some of the facets of capitalism as it is implemented in our current USA/Western Europe + others way, it appears to be working well, because the only people within the system sufficiently angered and upset to bring violence to bear are the groups like those who attacked the world trade summit. Many of these people have been observed to turn up to various rallies and demonstrations and initiate violence, which leads me to believe they attend for the violence, not for the ideals.

    Capitalism sucks, nearly as bad as every other system of economy.
    • Many of these people have been observed to turn up to various rallies and demonstrations and initiate violence, which leads me to believe they attend for the violence, not for the ideals.

      Man, I'm just itching for some violence. I wonder where I could go to start some. Hmmm... Banks? Nah, I'm not in it for the money. I could start a fight at a bar- nah, too easy, and not enough cops there. Afghanistan? Too expensive. Eureka! I'll go to a protest where there's lots of cops with tear gas and rubber bullets! What a great place to start some violence! Thanks for the tip, buddy! Boy I can't wait to piss off the cops and make them shoot at me!

      Yours truly,
      an undercover police antagonizer
    • A capitalist would not support state sponsorship of monopolies. Anyone who does is, necessarily, not a capitalist, but rather a corporate socialist. The Italian term for corporate socialist in the late 1930's was fascist (though it didn't mean then what it later came to mean under the Schicklegruber influence).

      (Yeah, I probably spelled that name wrong. He's not worth looking it up, and his nickname is banned.)
  • We can't escape... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wild_berry ( 448019 )
    The article makes so many interesting statements. I was intrigued. Here are my opinions on it:

    (1) Western culture = capitalism
    I disagree. One of the things we're supposed to be free enough to do is live as we like, and that may mean discarding the trade-for-self-beneficial-profit system we're in, but...
    we can't escape: Mankind will always have physical stuff you need to swap for other physical stuff someone else needs. The need brings value, the value brings barter and trade. And we're back in business. :-)

    (2) Information Society removes us from production
    I think that someone else has said this, but we still need to produce stuff to wear, food to eat, houses to live in cars to drive and computers to code on. Admittedly much of the production of this stuff occurs outside Europe and the US, but...
    we can't escape the fact that, for the claims of liberating people from production into an information society, the producers of our goods (in overseas nations) are vastly underpaid for what we pay the TransNational Corporations who make them and their countries don't benefit for that work.
    The fact that more than half the world doesn't have a phone makes me suspect that we're living like Marx did, comfortably in bourgeoise London while the people who might benefit most from our thoughts are not even equipped to join the discussion, yet looking up to the Western/Capitalist way to answer their problems.

    (3) GPL society will do away with man's selfishness
    I *really* don't believe that. The whole capitalist system, even at its roots is bounded in benefitting self in trade of anything you can sell. So what's going to remove this from people to happily share their ideas. I think that if people have the security to spend their days as they please, without worrying about tomorrow and the troubles it might bring, then they can begin to stop meeting their own needs...
    we can't escape this selfishness. Or can we? There's nothing I've heard anyone in this discussion say that provides that. I'll get flamed for stating this outright, but I believe there is an answer. E-mail me.

    take care.
    Ken.Lewis

  • One development is the increasing obsolescence of human labor. The more production is done by machines the less human labor is needed in the production process.


    I think this is shallow thinking, an illusion in progress, because "production process" is more interconnected and harder to contain in one bucket of isolated money/goods/value added than the interviewee lets on.

    Human labor is always increasing because there are more humans laboring with more opportunity to labor at something, and therefore is always more needed; ie., there is a yawning and only getting wider permanent shortage of it because more things go undone, and the undonness of things in the world is only increasing -- thanks to production and creation of resources, as well as waste, want and web, and also, the loss of ecosystem and resources.

    It is the displacement and barriers which come about from various turmoil, ranging from eco-calamities and wars to local economical or production hiccups that derail the effectiveness of any one human's labor, to the point of belittling or endangering the human.

    The true invariant is having a unit of actual time to fill per human. What goes into it, by definition, is the human's labor and the complement of it, everything else. But even in such a binary division, the conception of free time does not respect this division: One's free time may well contribute to one's human labor.

    I'm hopeful about free software, as adding flow capacity to the human exchange manifold, but I don't buy the obsolescence of human labor.
    • No, actually that is one point that was very correct in the article. Human labor as pointed out in the traditional sense as defined in the -communist manifesto- is actually drastically decreasing.

      The amount of human labor require to "build" anything is much less than 100 years ago. People are starting to do "jobs" that amuse them. Open Source while it could be defined as labor is actual amusement. Humans need to do something and that something is just building things to amuse them.

      Actually here a reference to Star Trek would be very applicable. Star Trek Next Generation could be a GPL type society. Sure people "work", but they do it for amusement to expand one's horizon. There is no money (unless they are dealing with Ferengi's ;) ).

      The point is that humans do things to amuse themselves. Me, I am a consultant, speaker, book author. I "add" nothing to the value chain, but yet people still give me money to talk about my ideas. It is the same in the music, film, etc industries. People pay to have other people "amuse" them. And this amusement is only increasing. This is good because people are not forced anymore to do things they do not want to...
  • by tdye ( 308813 ) <devnull+tony.bluetree@ie> on Tuesday December 11, 2001 @07:59AM (#2686378) Homepage Journal
    Here's the thing I don't get: (and since I don't get it, I must be a closed-minded jingoist...sheesh)

    This vision, this 'rethought Marxism', doesn't have any real meat to it. Now, I'd love to join the mailing list and see if anyone has come up with any substance to back these ideas. The thing is, I don't believe there can be any substance to them.

    The idea of a "GPL Society", where everyone takes what they need and contributes what they want, is fundamentally flawed. It's possible, perhaps, to get some distance towards this within a capitalist system because of the ability to convert quite a lot of labor into information transfer while also adding value. The thing is, Free software is a poor example... it exists because those people who are contributing to it do not rely on their creation for survival. Modelling an overall social system, where objects and services often cannot be translated into a digital form, on a system which ONLY exists as perfectly reproducible digital information, is a mistake of the highest order; this is where the "GPL Society" falls over. There are three big reasons why...

    First, you cannot expect a 'self-unfolding' project to provide food for you, or heat for your house, or schooling for your kids. You can only dedicate time to these projects when your basic needs have been met... not only has Free Software grown up inside a capitalist system, it is completely dependant on that system to sustain the creators of Free Software. Only succesful capitalists have time to create things which do not contribute to their survival. The only way for the GPL society to work is to ensure that every person has, for free, everything they could need, in a manner that doesn't involve labor on the part of some other individual.

    Second, even if we could completely automate every layer of food production (and every other industry and commodity) it still wouldn't work because of this sort of scenario: I want my kids to go to a good school, so I check out all the local freely offered schooling (because I live in the GPL Society, all the schooling is provided by people who want to do that sort of thing as a self-unfolding project that makes them feel good, and they get to do this because they don't need anything at all) and I decide that nobody around me can provide what I think is a brilliant education. So, I go out and find a teacher who's REALLY REALLY good... the thing is, this teacher also has 6000 other parents clamoring for her time, so she gets to choose who she picks. The only way I can have a better chance is if I can offer some incentive to the teacher; I have to figure out how I can give her something she WANTS (she's already got everything she needs). Guess what... we're right back to capitalism. Maybe she wants a bigger house and a bunch of handcarved art-nuveau accent work, and the only way I can give it to her is to get a bunch of house-building hand-carving type guys together to build it for her... but some of those guys want some incentive to drop their own architectural self-unfolding projects and come help me instead... how can I compensate these guys for their time? What if I don't have anything they want? Well, I guess I need to give them something they can use to trade for things they want... like money. Until we invent replicators, it's impossible to give everyone all the things they WANT; capitalism, and the market economy, is the only way to deal with this VERY common scenario. It's so common, most people don't even think about it anymore. It's second nature for a reason, folks, and not because you've been trained by capitalist bugaboos to think like that.

    Third, there will always bee a huge horde of people who ONLY take, or who exploit the desires of others for their own gain. When exclusively taking becomes not just possible, but easy and socially acceptable, then even more people won't contribute anything back. If all needs are provided for, luxuries become paramount and exploitation is EASIER, not harder. Greed automatically breaks the "GPL Society" and any other idea that follows the same path.

    Like Marx, this is a nice idea when it's kicked around by a bunch of homogenous thinkers on a mailing list, but when you try to apply it to the rest of the non-intelligencia it abruptly falls to bits.
    • First, you cannot expect a 'self-unfolding' project to provide food for you, or heat for your house, or schooling for your kids. You can only dedicate time to these projects when your basic needs have been met...

      That's where the robots come in. Quoth Stallman [gnu.org]:
      "The waste inherent in owning information will become more and more important and will ultimately make the difference between the utopia in which nobody really has to work for a living because it's all done by robots and a world just like ours where everyone spends much time replicating what the next fellow is doing."

      The only way I can have a better chance is if I can offer some incentive to the teacher
      Perhaps you should live in Lake Woebegone where the children are all above average. What is it that makes you think you couldn't find a good teacher in a society not based on money? What about all the people who would like to teach but end up working for corporations because teacher's pay is so shitty? What about the reduced overhead for the creation and distribution of textbooks in a copyright-free economy?

      Third, there will always bee a huge horde of people who ONLY take
      Exclusive ownership of information benefits these people. The GPL society as described can handle freeloaders, what it has a hard time with is exlusivity.

      If all needs are provided for, luxuries become paramount and exploitation is EASIER
      Hence the flood of immigrants away from the relatively wealthy US to the relatively poor Mexico to avoid the exploitation, right?. I thought you were a capitalist?!

      I don't think it's quite as correct to say that greed breaks the GPL as that the GPL accomadates greed and demands an end to information-envy. It is the conrol, rather than the hoarding, of information that makes the GPL society difficult to realize.
      • That's where the robots come in. Quoth Stallman [gnu.org]:
        "The waste inherent in owning information will become more and more important and will ultimately make the difference between the utopia in which nobody really has to work for a living because it's all done by robots and a world just like ours where everyone spends much time replicating what the next fellow is doing."


        The idea that everything you could need could be created by a robot is different than the idea that everything you could want is created by one. You seem to have missed that concept... luxury becomes paramount when survival is handled, and since you can't always make (or convince someone else to make) what you want, you must have some way to trade for it... barter rapidly evolves into capitalism.

        Perhaps you should live in Lake Woebegone where the children are all above average. What is it that makes you think you couldn't find a good teacher in a society not based on money? What about all the people who would like to teach but end up working for corporations because teacher's pay is so shitty? What about the reduced overhead for the creation and distribution of textbooks in a copyright-free economy?

        Ahh... but for me, a good teacher isn't adequate. My daughter is absolutely brilliant, and I want the BEST teacher. Merely 'good' isn't good enough for my daughter. And since I might live in the middle of nowhere, there's an excellent chance that all the skilled people around me don't want to spend time teaching 6yr old prodigies without some sort of compensation... highly skilled people expect (and deserve) more compensation for their work than less-skilled people. Unless you can give everyone everything they can come up with, you're right back to capitalism. No replicators, no GPL Society.

        We don't have the natural resources to give everyone everything for free. Things that are scarce always have more value, and that makes people desire them more... once again, the GPL Society falls apart into plain old capitalism.

        And, hey, don't forget, reduced overhead is irrelevant, since all the books are made by robots and everything is digital. You haven't gained anything. The solution to the teacher quality problem is to allow schools to compete in a market economy, free of unions which protect ignorant teachers and free of govt. control which prevents teachers from marketing their skills.

        The GPL society as described can handle freeloaders, what it has a hard time with is exlusivity.

        No society can handle freeloaders when a commodity is scarce, like education, or medicine, or caviar and a 200yr old bottle of Dom. The GPL society (as I said before) works fine when you talk about things that can be replicated for free, but falls apart when you apply it to tangible, unconvertable skills and objects.

        Hence the flood of immigrants away from the relatively wealthy US to the relatively poor Mexico to avoid the exploitation, right?. I thought you were a capitalist?!

        That makes no sense at all. People come into the US because their work has more value here. If All work was valueless, and all commodities were valueless (which is what happens if you can automate the process and provide it all for free) then the things with value become MORE scarce, and MORE valuable. I suppose I should have said 'price gouge', not 'exploit'.

        GPL accomadates greed and demands an end to information-envy. It is the conrol, rather than the hoarding, of information that makes the GPL society difficult to realize.

        HA! The GPL Society accomodates information-greed, not "I want 40 times more than you because I jump in front of bullets to protect the President and you don't" greed, or "I'm the best dance instructor for 500 miles, so either give me something I can't make or you can piss off" greed. The GPL Society demands an end to information-envy, but doesn't do anything about "hey, you've got the smartest dog I've ever seen!" envy, or "wow, you make really cool sculpture... can I have one?" envy. It's my experience that people place much more value on the things they make for themselves than they do on the things they make in the factory. How does the GPL Society deal with that?

        The difficulty in realizing the GPL Society has absolutely nothing at all to do with information hoarding or control, and everything to do with basic logistical concepts of supply/demand, relative worth, unique tangible items, and personal non-replicatable services. Not to mention good old-fashioned greed and ill-temper.
        • Look, I"m not a marxist, you are arguing against a straw man.

          I'm not saying that scarcity doesn't exist, or that capitalism is bad. I'm more in line with Rawls- given that scarcity exists, we have an obligation not just to maximize whatever our economy values, but to maximize the minimum share of wealth in that economy. When we craft social policy, we are making conscious choices about the way our economy will work *given* the constraints of scarcity which won't go away.

          The point is, eliminating information monopolies reduces scarcity and makes the economy *more* efficient at providing for everyone. If technology is forever locked up in a copyright/patent safe deposit box, robots that do our labor for us will be ever farther away.
          • I completely agree with that! The subject of the interview, however, dodn't seem to grasp that you can't translate Free Tech into Free Everything, and so you can't get a "GPL Society" no matter how much Free Tech you create.
            • Well, then we agree after all. You seem to have abandoned your earlier implicit premise that scarcity was a constant, and changing levels of resources simply squish scarcity elsewhere. Now you seem to agree that scarcity, although not eliminable, can be reduced.

              Free tech reduces scarcity. Lets shake on it.
              • What I think is that Free tech would shift the relative worth of some items, and that in some cases an object would become available at no cost, and thus valueless, while other objects, and many services, would increase significantly in value directly as a result of their non-replicatable nature. While you probably could reduce the overall 'scarcity quotient' (assuming such a thing exists and could be quantified), such a change could not be broad enough to render a capitalist system useless or outmoded. It would merely shift the focus away from immediate survival (until we start running low on natural resources of course, then it's right back to how things are now).

                Free Tech reduces scarcity of things than can be created or produced through tech. Whether that matters much or not, and whether that creates a better society is still, IMHO, an open question.
    • I'm not sure what "jingoism" has to do with it -- jingoism is "extreme nationalism." Uh, okay. What that has to do with a discussion about a socioeconomic system, I don't know.

      Oh, wait! He was insulting his ideological opponents before the debate even started. I get it now!
  • Pardon me for pissing in the punch here, but...

    Free software won't change the world.

    Free bread and vegetables would change the world. Free steel would change the world. Free software? It's an interesting concept for a particular industry. However, I would say 80-90% of the world doesn't give a damn about free software.

    First of all, there are more important things to work for than for free software... which is why music, film, art, and literature are all not free either, and those have been important to culture far longer than software has been (collectively). Second, there are a lot of people who are not directly affected by software, how it was obtained, and who worked on it. Third, most people who use any kind of software in their day to day lives are concerned neither with the quality or the price of the software that they use... far too often the quality and price of computer hardware greatly offsets that concern, and no one cares about software unless it starts to break... and then even at that point, most people live with it and are not inclined to complain too loudly, given the overall convenience that modern computer systems provide.

    Free software changing the world? Free software having revolutionary social implications? That's a tough sell. Segway has a better shot at changing the world, and I don't even know if they'll last 3 years. Please don't spout off comments like this without direct, convincing evidence to state these claims, otherwise Slashdot is nothing more than the online version of the Weekly World News, Linux edition. You might have far better, convincing arguments if you simply take a more rational view of what free software can affect.

    (I'm all for free software, by the way)
    • "Free bread and vegetables would change the world. Free steel would change the world. Free software?"

      I'm not so sure about this. Which market is worth more, the steel market or the software market. I would hazard a guess at the latter. Whether or not I am correct, they are certainly comparable.

      I think that the thrust of the argument here is not that free software will change the world, but that the ideas that come out of it may. Personally I agree with you that its a little insular, and I doubt that it will. But who knows, its certainly an interesting movement, and stranger things have happened.

      Phil
  • So contrary to capitalism, in which increasing automation always destroys the work places for people and thus their means to live, in a GPL Society maximum automation would be an important aim of the whole society.

    Once things are wonderfully automated, what do the people that used their braun instead of their brains for a living do then? I think maybe smart people forget that not everyone can support themselves by sitting in some office micromanaging or writing code for the greater good of the new economy.

    There always has to be jobs for the bottom half. This is just a reality of society.

    ... or are we assuming their usefulness will be just as passé as capitalism when that time comes?
    • I think it's rather presumptuous of you to assume that "people [who use] their braun instead of their brains," in the present social order, are incapable of creative activity on their own terms.

      It's that old truism: "You are what you do." If you do stupid, boring, and monotonous work, chances are pretty good that you'll end up boring, stupid and monotonous.

      A postcapitalist society has the potential to really permit people to live again -- to work because they love to work and love what they do -- not out of some fallacious and wrongheaded "work ethic."

      Insomuch as the Slashdot crowd is concerned, consider the early hackers.... why did they get into this in the first place? I doubt greatly that "making myself and a bunch of heartless VCs richer than snot" was high on the agenda. No, rather, it was about the love of learning, creating, tinkering... hacking.

      It's the same thing that drove Beethoven. And Shakespeare. And Picaso and van Gogh. The work itself was a labour of love, not some toiling monotony. Just because the hacker's passion is technology doesn't mean this "toiling underclass" you describe don't have -- or couldn't have -- passions that are equally voracious.

      I'm not so presumptuous to think that ethic -- that work should be play -- can't enrapture people who don't fit into some elite model of the "intellectual."

      There don't have to be jobs for the "bottom half," because the idea of the "bottom half" is absurd.

      Automation, cybernation and liberatory technologies have the potential to make work itself -- in a capitalistic sense, in any case -- obsolete.

      Maybe, then, we can get back to our humanity for a change.

      bacchusrx.
  • What does patriotism [dictionary.com] have to do with this?
    Jingoistic: Extreme nationalism characterized especially by a belligerent foreign policy; chauvinistic patriotism.
  • by laetus ( 45131 ) on Tuesday December 11, 2001 @09:40AM (#2686543)
    Until the 1970s capitalism promised a better world to people in the Western countries, to people in the former Soviet bloc and to the Third World. It stopped doing it starting in the 1980s and dismissed it completely in the 1990s. Today the capitalist leaders are glad if they are able to fix the biggest leaks in the sinking ship.

    This guy has obviously never heard of the business cycle and transformational technologies. We happen to be at a nexus where the business cycle is bottoming exactly at the time when we have so many promising technologies that will transform society (biotech, nanotech, etc.)

    Capitalism works. It's just cyclical. The Marxist utopians always wait until the bottoming of an economic cycle (hence his "sinking ship" metaphor") to wave their red flags and proclaim capitalism dead. And yet, the cycle continues and we'll be on our way up again soon.

    As for the capitalism's promise to better the Third World, no such promise existed. Capitalism promises that if you create a fair market, lower barriers to entry, and allow people to innovate and work hard, you'll prosper. The Third World's poverty is not because of capitalism but despite it. If the Third World would get on board, clean up their corrupt governments and change the culture of always wanting a handout, maybe capitalism would work for them.

    Ask post-war Korea and Japan about how fast an economy can be rebuilt (within a generation!). You just have to have the culture to do it.
    • IANAE but, I am literate enough to realize that Karl Marx made a huge contribution to the study of economics. Anyone who has take an economics course, even in H.S., knows that Marx first illucidated many principles which are used by all economists today.

      Today, unfortunately, many people are only aware of Marx in relation to the political movement which adopted some of his ideas.

      If we dismiss serious economic thought as pablum because of its references to Marx , we will need to redevelop much of modern economics.
    • A genuine capitalist, or even nearly so, society might be able to do this. I have strong doubts that a society of governmentally sponsored and maintained monopolies that used to be businesses can do so.

      Centralized planning is guaranteed to be inefficient at improving the conditions of anyone who isn't one of the central planners. Even with the best of intentions, they don't really know the situation of anyone else. And they don't really want to, for lots of reasons. It would make them uncomfortable. More to the point, they really can't. The fractal nature of social structures makes it manifestly impossible. So they generalize, make guesses, and steamroller over anyone who objects. This will guarantee an increase in the number of unhappy people. Loop until an exception occurs.

      In post-war Korea and Japan, the controls over individual economic activity were looser than they had been previously. Existing social control structures had been severly shaken and restructuring was still in process.

      One of the big damages that the computer has done to the social structure of the country (of the world!) is to extend and facilitate the reach of centrallized social controls. Local control centers have, consequently, devolved. But local controls have a better idea of local conditions.
    • You just have to have the culture to do it

      Yes. Well, not "just"... you need to be free of a certain kind of meddling, and local entrepreneurs need to be given control of Capital (whether it's loaned to you or you own it).

      As for the capitalism's promise to better the Third World, no such promise existed. Capitalism promises that if you create a fair market, lower barriers to entry, and allow people to innovate and work hard, you'll prosper. The Third World's poverty is not because of capitalism but despite it. If the Third World would get on board, clean up their corrupt governments and change the culture of always wanting a handout, maybe capitalism would work for them.

      Ummm... no.

      The third world's poverty has an awful lot to do with colonial history and attitudes, and the United States government messing with their foreign affairs. I'm taking largely about central and south america, but other regions have their fair share of examples.

      Guatemala in the 1950's is a decent example of a government that tried to enact reforms, create a fair market, and independantly (that is, independent of US investment and corporate control) follow the United States model of a free market. They ran afoul of the United Fruit company when they emminent domained away some of United Fruit's land assests -- which, by many accounts, weren't being used. They offered United Fruit compensation for the land. United Fruit went to our friends in the US government and whispered communism, and the CIA went in and overthrew them and installed a bloody regime that murdered a large number of citizens and Guatemala still hasn't recovered today. If you want a longer list, go read Noam Chomsky's "What Uncle Same Really Wants". If half of what Chomsky says is true, the United States has some serious owning up to do about the state of the third world. We tend to foster and nurture a fair bit of the corruption that exists abroad.

      So what other problems exist, besides USA (and other colonial powers, make no mistake) throwing their weight around abroad? Well, there's still an existing colonial attitude in business settings. Capital is very rarely controlled by those with the interests of the third world at heart. I don't doubt that a lot of outside investment in third world countries *could* be beneficial, but a lot of the time, third world countries are the party with less information (and leverage) in a transaction, and so they can and do get screwed.

      I agree with you in one way. We need to stop getting so involved in other countries as a government. NGOs are sometimes misguided, but they're rarely the servants of those who would perpetuate their own monetary and political power w/o consideration to what happens in the third world, so we can probably leave them in place. I think the Microcredit organizations (those that do small scall lending to small community based enterprises) have a lot of promise to raise economics. Capital is loaned to locals who know local needs, and they have control over it. It's working really well in some places.

      Bottom line: we ARE responsible in a lot of ways for the state of the third world. Not so much in our lack of what we do, but in the intended/unintended consequences of our own arrogant economic and poltical philosophies.
  • so, no change? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Pretty much every answer that has criticised the article seems to hold the view that we are now at the pinnacle of development, at least economically. While change just for the sake of change might not alway be a good thing, nobody can argue that we don't live in a society full of change. Some of our "fundamentals truths" about human nature, for instance, may be rocked. Just be carefull about the words "never" and "always".

    Also, please don't make the error of confusing "socialists" simply as believers of marx. Socialism existed before marx and has developed long after marx. The only thing that "socialism" basically implies is that the ownership of the means of production are not private. Everything else can be negotiated, some branches even think a money-based economy is a good thing.
  • Oh, dear, I'm going to have to explain this again, while I should be sipping my coffee.

    Ideas (software, music, movies, etc) are not property.

    Look through the Ten Commandments, and you'll see that it's wrong to covet your neighbor's wife, his goat, his house. But nothing about his ideas. Indeed, I suspect that if you study any religion, you'll find no reference to copyright or patents.

    Copyright and patents emerged late in the last milennium... basically, intellectuals and scientists managed to convince governments to pass these laws... for their own benefit, of course.

    But think about it... and go back to my proposition that ideas are not property. Like many have observed, "stealing" an idea (or copying software) does not deny its orginator of the "property". In fact, intellectual property laws serve to enforce scarcity. The theory is that more ideas will be generated by rewarding those who create them. But consider the number of people who are denied the use of the idea... is it a fair trade-off?

    In fact, intellectual property laws themselves are a socialist construction (though they came into existence somewhat before socialism itself). They protect special interests (in this case, the interests of smart people) at the expense of the general public. That may not be socialism in the way the term is commonly used, but it's socialism in the sense that it's the opposite of a free market.

    So Free Software is a true free-market phenomenon. Though it might go against the grain of what you think of as capitalism (i.e. big companies making money), think about it for a second. Intellectual property laws do nothing but grant monoplies on certain things. For example, Windows. Whatever the merits of the MS antitrust case, the real monopoly behind it all is the one that the government granted Microsoft for the use of the term "Windows" and for the code that makes it up. If Microsoft makes more money because of that, it's not because of free markets but because of artificial government protections. The fact that the government is now prosecuting MS for making the most of those laws is indeed sweet irony.

    Socialist countries (or countries that lean toward it) will eventually find that they don't especially like Free software, because their impulse is to control. It might go against the grain in a fairly capitalist country like the US, but to the extent that it does, it's because of non-capitalist (more accurately, non-free-market) laws.

    So, the terms "capitalist" and "socialist" are really not especially useful... think more in terms of free markets and controlled markets. In those terms, Free Software is the ultimate free market creation. That little or no money changes hands is irrelevant... the freedom of the software provides the public with software at a good price. THAT is the purpose of a free market economy, after all. It's not about making it easy for people to profit, but about providing consumers with goods and services at the lowest possible price.

    Oh, and just so we're clear... I think that in an ideal world, there never would have been any IP laws. But I also feel that repealing them would be disastrous. Free Software serves to slowly undermine the IP laws in a non-destructive way, and that's why it's catching on.
    • Copyright and patents emerged late in the last milennium

      Bzzzt, thanks for playing. "Copyright", according to the OED, comes from a Saxon term and was in use by monasteries who would let strangers copy one of their manuscripts for a fee. It thus predates the invention of mass reproduction.



      The more general point of an author's right to control over his work appears in Revelations and was certainly a preoccupation of the Greeks.



      Note that your argument, if it works at all, is also an argument in favour of there being no rules against plagiarism, and no right to privacy. After all, it doesn't harm you if Johnny copies your essay, or Bill takes a peek at your medical records, does it? You still have that information.



      Intellectual property is entirely about the rights of creators to decide what is done with the product of their creation/labour, and without this fundamental human right, it is impossible to have any sort of market system. Your economics is as muddled as your legal philosophy is reprehensible.

      • >> rights of creators to decide what is done with the product of their creation/labour> without this fundamental human right, it is impossible to have any sort of market system

        Um... let me guess, you're a lawyer, right? Get serious, nearly every economy in history existed without IP laws, or was minimally helped by them. The foundations of an economy are things like running water, electricity, roads, communication... not f***king movies.

        As for a "reprehensible legal philosohpy", don't be so quiick to judge.... I accept that IP laws exist, and appreciate the need for stability. For that very reason, Free Software is a neat phenomenon because it is not destructive of anything that's in place. Rather, it grows around it, and fills needs that would otherwise go unfilled. THAT is the foundation of an economy.
        • Since the majority of "economies" which have ever existed, existed before the invention of mass reproduction technology, this is trivially true. All developed economies, however, have had intellectual property laws since the beginning of their development, starting with the Statute of Anne in 1710.



          How do you think the plans for electricity, running water, etc, etc get financed in a world where they can be copied by freeloaders? Do the words "To promote the useful arts" mean anything to you?

          • >> How do you think the plans for electricity, running water, etc, etc get financed in a world where they can be copied by freeloaders?

            Um, I dunno, I guess people just make generators, irrigate fields, etc. Don't know of any farmers or home builders who retain IP lawyers.

            More to the point, imagine that IP laws really worked to enforce the inventor's "rights". I mean, we all know they don't work, otherwise there would be no need for software copy protection or DVD encryption.

            But imagine for a moment that IP laws could be perfectly enforced. Imagine that nobody could build roads or water systems or electric plants unless they paid royalties to some American company for the idea. If you think the Afghans (and the rest of the world) are pissed off at us now....
            • Um, I dunno, I guess people just make generators, irrigate fields, etc.



              Point me to this farmer who sits down and invents a generator from scratch and then tell me who's running his farm while he carries out the research involved, fool. The patents have long since expired on generators and most modern irrigation systems, but these things would not have reached their current level of development if they had depended on the work of amateurs rather than companies with lawyers and bankers.


              Imagine that nobody could build roads or water systems or electric plants unless they paid royalties to some American company for the idea

              Congratulations, you're imagining the USA in the period of Edison and Westinghouse. For electricity distribution, that is (the major patents on which have long since expired). If on the other hand, you think that "water systems" were invented by American companies, you're either too much of an idiot to warrant further conversation or rudely refusing to think seriously about history.

    • "That may not be socialism in the way the term is commonly used, but it's socialism in the sense that it's the opposite of a free market. "

      I think that you are very confused over what the terms "socialist", "free market" and "capitalist" mean. You certainly seem to have got them confused here.

      Socialism is about control of the fruits of production by those who are the means of production. Capitalism is about control of the fruits of production, by those who own the means of production. The free market is about free movement of capital, and nothing else. To have capital you of course require strong property laws. IPR is just one example of this.

      Phil
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The problem is the multiple uses of the word "free". RMS likes to say "free as in free speech, not as in free beer". Lessig has a better approach in his new book. Free translates into both "libre" and "gratis". Free software is as in libre, not necessarily as in gratis. The reason for the choice of the term "open source" was an attempt to work around the lack of respect in the business community for things that are gratis. The business community greatly respects things that are libre, as in free enterprise.
  • Ok, I have karma to burn so here's goes my best attempt to get a -5 troll.

    Software, free software could change the world? Yes. Free as in beer and speech , yes.

    The Soviet Unions space program would have far surpassed ours in the 60's and 70's if they had access to our scientific research and software. Hell, the entire planet is playing catch-up to the United states in regards to space research and everyone is paying catch up to the Japan technology machine. Why is there pockets of technology in the sea of technological backwardness? One could say that eastern europe doesnt have any computers. That is pure BS, the United states threw away more computers than there were people needing them in europe just last year. Hell, I threw away 5 computers last year and 30 computers from work. All of them are quite serviceable and useable with linux and other free software. and can help students, and scientists.

    The hardware and software is out there. the hardware is destroyed by morons that run our countries corperations... ("someone might get ourt plans to the XYZ dis-comboobulator" off of that computer"... but that's the receptionists pc, and that info is on the hard drive... " I DONT CARE, destroy everything including the monitor! we cant let our competitiors get an edge!"

    Tis the thinking of the morons we call our CEO's CTO's and CSO's... Now the task to the free software...

    The software can change the world, A free GIS system, or even a free SQL database with OS can give technology to tiny and small governments that are trying to build any infrastructure to their community. and this infrastructure is what will change the lives of the people that live there. giving them sewers, drinkable water, roads, give the rest of the world the huge luxuries like these that every western european and United states citizen take for granted every day.

    This is where that free software will change the planet....
  • Get your bets in on when people will stop trying to define what is happening here in this natural evolution of software development (using terms that are not advanced enough to correctly identify it, not to mention communicate it accurately and in simple terms.)

    Man has developed societies over time, in order to deal with growing complexities of population growth. Perhaps the tower of babel was one such example where a problem developed in complexity?

    But we learn how to overcome such problems (who knows maybe we will overcome the language barrier, thru some new and improved portable babelfish speach to text to speech converter).

    And in overcomming such problems encountered in the growing population of society, we build upon common ground what we have as a whole.

    In the software industry, where does this "common ground" that we are building upon exist?

    Consider the roads/highways in the US, where would business be if there weren't such common pathways of the quality and quantity of US roads?
    And where does the money to build and maintain such roads come from?

    As others have correctly pointed out, software is unlike any other product, it's non-physical in essence, though recorded upon very inexpensive media, perhaps even pencil and paper.

    MicroSoft is a good example of trying to build a tower of babel into the heavens.

    Instead the natural evolution of software development is building the highway that can handle the weight and transport alot more than a stairway or elevator can.

    When Bill Gates yelled piracy, he in effect cause a distraction, a detour of this natural evolution and by the carrot of money. But that was when the software industry was small enough to do so in even gaining money hungry followers to help sustain the distraction, the detour.

    Much of this works that trys to explain what is going on here, does so based on the current market share. Look back what others were saying even 5 or 6 years ago and realize this. Then project forward and realize that companies like Microsoft who want to control the road/highway with toll stations, simply will not exist. Instead they wil be more like vechicle manufactures (or at least that's a good distraction for them at this time.)

    Without this common ground highway, we simply cannot go as far as the population demands. And the population is going to do what is good for it, rather than for the self selected few who want to put up toll booths. Even governments are more and more supporting the common ground highway as they also need to travel over the highway.

    But it's not just software, it's information too [mindspring.com], but one thing at a time.
  • Open Source software vs. Microsoft/Apple software.
    Ask yourself, would you rather write great code for yourself, and thus sell it for your own benefit... Or - would you rather be a Micro$oft or Apple employee? Now from the customer end - would you rather agree to the Micro$oft license or the Open Source License? Which one allows you the best options? Which one places you in danger of losing your privacy and even inaliable rights? Which is more expensive? Which is free?

    Why these questions cause giant flame wars on /. only goes to show that most programmers are really great at what they do... but they aren't particularly wise.
    P.S. I love using the word inaliable because the M$ spell checker doesn't understand it. Curious no?
  • It is all about me (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PineHall ( 206441 )
    People look after their own self interests. People will not reach out and help others until they are certain they have "enough", and that is a little more than they feel is necessary for others to have. Capitalism works because it is based on the idea that people will look after themselves. This is also why Capitalism needs to be restrained to prevent people's selfishness from oppressing others. This so called "GPL Society" assumes that people are naturally good and will share equally. Not true! It is a society that will not work.
  • He makes a bunch of excellent points, and then he says this:

    "Another important factor is that capitalism is in deep crisis.Until the 1970s capitalism promised a better world to people in the Western countries, to people in the former Soviet bloc and to the Third World. It stopped doing it starting in the 1980s and dismissed it completely in the 1990s. Today the capitalist leaders are glad if they are able to fix the biggest leaks in the sinking ship."

    By what measure is it failing? My preferred measure of well being is life expectancy: it correlates well with income, and is a good general, objective measure of quality of life. In has increased from 42 to 49 in sub Saharan Africa, from 53 to 64 in the undeveloped countries and from 71 to 76 in the first world.

    What's another good measure? Let's use people in extreme poverty. It's remained relatively constant since 1950 at about 1.2 billion people. At the same time, the population of the world more than doubled. In other words, the world gained about 3.4 billion "not poor" people.
    Open source will change the world, and it will change economics. But in the realm of scarce goods, capitalism works. No other century in history was as good for the human race as the 20th, despite the efforts of Hitler (6 million Jews), Stalin (20 million Ukrainians and rural Russians) and Mao (30 million)

    Bryan
  • So if I disagree that this is in any way enlightening, that makes me non-free thinking and jingoistic? What a biased, bigoted thing to say. In other words, anyone who doesn't espouse the neo-Marxist views expressed in this interview is labled a jingoist?

    How typical of left/liberal thinking; if you don't agree with us, you are a bad person! LOL.
    • "So if I disagree that this is in any way enlightening, that makes me non-free thinking and
      jingoistic? "

      I think he was saying that if you jingoistic you won't like the article. Liking an article, finding it thought provoking, is of course different from agreeing with it.

      The point is that the article uses the word "Marxist". Time and again on slashdot, if you use this word you get flamed to hell, mostly I have to say from US readers, because of the particular view of Marxism that is widely held over there. In most of Europe Marxism is a part of political scene, and adds valuable insight into our understanding. This is true whether or not you agree with Marxism.

      Phil
      • Good points. I did find it an interesting read, but didn't agree with most of it. Still, I do enjoy reading opposing views, even when they are way off base.
  • You're shooting yourself in the foot spewing crap like that. Money makes the world go round and even those who think they are doing something for free have to pay their bills somehow. Unless you're Stallman and have others donating money to pay your bills. but those others are making money somewhere. Try going to Fry's and telling they should give you a new computer, because you write free software. Go read some Ayn Rand and learn to be proud to be paid for hard work and intelligent thought.
  • Anyone who is driven in the software industry to create a situation in which everything is free simply does not understand human nature. Benefits arise from curiosity, whether those benefits are money or ego or status. And the production of energy and ideas in a human body is not free either (i.e. you need to eat and be able to afford your computers)

    Money is not going to go away any time soon. It may turn into something [egold.com] that is no longer just faith, but it is not going anywhere. There are two problems that Marxists (of any color) can never seem to grasp:

    1. Corporate Capitalism has caused major price *gaps*. The prices we use for things like CDs are way out of whack because of IP law. That does not mean that the MPAA is going to come crumbling down tomorrow and prices will go to zero. On the contrary, over time, prices will decrease to incredibly small amounts. The same goes for energy.
    2. This is far-fetched, but I still think reasonable. Marxist never seem to understand that what Karl Marx considered the proliteriat lacking in the means of production would eventually become so stupid that they would be incapable of handling or even revolting to regain the rights to the means of production. Only I'm not talking about humans -- I'm talking about the mechanical proliteriats that are gradually replacing human proliteriats.

    Things as complex as economies, countries, and even corporations just don't change overnight and they don't generally change in huge extremes. Most software might become open source, but most of it will never quite be free as the market redistributes itself. I've said that I'm more than willing to pay an independent programmer ten bucks for his widget but that I've never paid Adobe the hoards of money they want for their behemoths (most of the features of which I don't and can't use).

    ========
  • From the article:

    1. Free Software is both inside and outside capitalism. On the one hand, the social basis for Free Software clearly would not exist without a flourishing capitalism. Only a flourishing capitalism can provide the opportunity to develop something that is not for exchange. On the other hand, Free Software is outside of capitalism for the reasons I mentioned above: absence of scarcity and self-unfolding instead of the alienation of labor in a command economy.
    pretty much agree...

    2. It seems you're talking about the difference between use value - the use of goods or labor - and exchange value - reflected in the price of the commodities that goods or labor are transformed into by being sold on the market.
    nice distinction

    3. In Free Software because the product can be taken with only marginal cost and, more importantly, is not created for being exchanged, the exchange value of the product is zero. Free Software is worthless in the dominant sense of exchange.
    yes, seems to be true
    4. The more production is done by machines the less human labor is needed in the production process.
    Human labor is always needed for survival. Robots won't give birth and won't raise children to adults to be capable of surviving. Argument is uptopian and irrational.
    5. A GPL Society would not be based on exchange, there would be no need for money anymore .
    Yep, and that is
    big trouble . Please read the book from Hernando de Soto:
    The Mystery of Capitalism. Why Capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else" [amazon.com].

    I think it explains quite nicely the necessity to give any commodity, be it human labor, tangible goods or intangible goods, not only a use value, but also an exchange value expressed in monetary units. Even the caveman needs money, actually it's the first thing he tries to "invent and make" after he has eaten. And he kinda works pretty hard to make a living. Of course, if we all bomb ourselves back into the stone ages and into a money-less society, then your utopian idea of a society based on self-enfolding work to produce commodities or labor, which have no exchange value, might work. Just I think the caves have no hardware. Eeeeck. Whatta do next ? Better make something, which has an exchange value > 0.
  • For those who wish to write Open Source software for a living (yeah, that means earning money): Do OSS consulting and provide people with complete hardware/software solutions for all their needs. If something doesn't exist, develop it yourself and somehow tack that onto their bill, even if it's just labeled as a raw labor cost. Guaranteed, they'll still be saving boatloads of money in comparison to proprietary solutions which must be replaced every couple years. And if enough OSS geeks start doing this, it'll become easier for everyone since less of the needed software will be missing when starting out on a job. Granted, there will always be in-house programming customizations to do, but they too will become smaller.

    If you truly believe in Open Source, become a master programmer make it your livelihood. Word will spread quickly if you do a much better job than all those MSCE certified dolts and help businesses reduce their fixed costs in the process. And if you find yourself earning too much money, you can always take a year off for leisure, personal education, and coding on pet projects. Sounds like a dream, but its not. However, first you must move beyond the mental box that says the only "stable job" is working 9-5 making somebody else rich. Small, flexible business are the key to the further expansion of already successful OSS.
  • What about those of us who are not freethinking and who are jingoistic?

    Talk about flame bait... Geez!

Not only is UNIX dead, it's starting to smell really bad. -- Rob Pike

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