Re: [ox-en] Threads "The Fading Altruism of Open Source" on <nettime>
- From: Graham Seaman <graham seul.org>
- Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2002 17:28:14 -0500 (EST)
[I'm keeping the cc list Stefan put on this; hope this is ok]
On Sat, 12 Jan 2002, Stefan Merten wrote:
On <nettime> there is an interesting thread at
and here particularly the sub-thread about altruism starting at
and a second part starting at
I wish some of these discussions would take place here.
The article that started it off (
) is quite an interesting one in its own right. I think it covers many
of the same areas which the oekonux group are interested in, though from
a different point of view (not one which is hostile to free software - the
conclusions are that free software is a 'good thing' and that it might
be useful to help it indirectly by increasing educational funding). Could
it be an interesting exercise for oekonux people to write a reply?
One reason for doing this is that it directly criticizes some oekonux
related ideas; another, that it is the first paper I have seen
which looks good enough to become the standard academic 'refutation' of
any 'germ-form' arguments (I'm not saying it really refutes them!).
I'll have a go at a start:
The paper is a little sloppy (though there have been much worse); both as
Florian Cramer showed on Nettime in relation to details of free software
projects, and in regard to their own data (unless my geography is badly
wrong they seem to have confused Sweden with Finland!). The 'fading
altruism' of the title, which is what was talked about most on Nettime, is
a bit of a red herring - firstly because
they're not really talking about 'altruism', secondly because their
historical parts on software development are about the worst part in the
But the key point is their claim to have provided an empirically testable
hypothesis: that free software occurs where programmers are not very
highly paid, and as wages increase in the richer countries the number of
writers of free software will decrease. As a consequence of this (and not
strictly part of their core hypothesis) they assume they have disproved
ideas that the free software culture is something that comes out of, or
could succeed the most developed capitalism.
I think this is the core sentence:
'As increased demand for programmers within a nation drives up the going
wage rate, it should increase the opportunity cost of coding free software
over [working on] commercial applications, and thereby decrease the amount
of free software production'. They complain about Marx being an economic
determinist but this is so extreme it's more financial than economic
determinism! Wage rates decide everything..
1. This is trading Raymonds 'cultural' view for a completely determinist
one. Neither is likely to be the whole truth (and there are other aspects
to economics and to culture which neither covers...). But the alternative
to Raymond's 'gift culture' ideas (I really don't like that analogy -
the gift cultures were ones which basically went crazy or suicidal
on their first contacts with capitalism) does not have to be this
kind of financial determinism.
2. There are alternative explanations of their own data even on this
level: they assume that because the US is the richest country, it has the
richest population, and the best paid programmers, and these are the only
relevant measures of wealth. Sticking at this purely empirical level
and looking at their own maps, I would guess that their data is highly
correlated with which countries fund education the most and where most
people can afford to be students for longest. On this measure of wealth
the US is certainly not going to come near the top. If this is right,
they haven't shown any causal relation at all with wages.
3. They've provided a prediction as to what should happen as the recession
in technology hits in America - the number of people writing free software
should go through the roof. I don't think there's going to be any such
event - but it should be something perfectly testable (just watch
freshmeat and compare the number of entries from Stefan Merten with the
number from Americans ;-).
So can oekonux provide a better, equally testable hypothesis about the
way things are going? I'm pretty sure that it can...
Furthermore the open money issue is mentioned by Keith Hart. This is
an issue I think we need to address and I'd love to have it with these
Mit Freien Grüßen
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