Contractual instruments? (was: Re: [ox-en] Threads "The Fading Altruism of Open Source" on <nettime>)
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2002 23:24:02 +0100
Hi Kermit and all!
2 days ago Kermit Snelson wrote:
I believe that terms like "altruism" and "opportunity cost" don't provide
much insight into why people develop open source or free software.
I agree wholeheartedly :-) .
Lancashire, who bases his analysis on such ideas, overlooks the fact that
computer programming is not only an occupation but also a hobby and sport,
particularly for those who are good at it.
Exactly. That's why we're talking of self-unfolding being the central
motor of Free Software.
The obvious fact that people
will do it without being paid no more "poses a serious challenge to
traditional political economy" than does bird-watching or basketball.
Yes, but there are important differences to other hobbies. The "hobby"
of Free Software creates a product which is available without the need
for exchange, which is useful for a vast number of people and even
started to supersede its commodity alternative.
So the interesting economic question about open source development isn't why
some people do it for free. Instead, I propose that we consider instead
what kind of contractual instruments, other than those that impose legal
monopolies, are capable of creating sustainable economies.
That presupposes that *contractual* instruments are important. I doubt
this is true on a general basis.
discussion in these terms can also make it clearer why the "open money"
issue is related to the "open source" and "free software" discussions.
After all, both currency and software license agreements are contractual
instruments, and the issue before us is whether such instruments can enable
a sustainable economy without resorting to the restrictive monopolies of
central banking and copyright, respectively.
IMHO the licenses only protect Free Software from abuse by
privatization. This is no longer necessary if nobody wants to abuse
Free Software any longer because they can't profit from privatization.
To some degree this is already the case because the availability to
the general public is one of the key advantages of Free Software.
Therefore, it seems to me that asking whether "open source" and "open money"
contractual instruments can support a viable economy simply restates two
very old political questions. Namely, is this exquisite balance achievable
simply by letting human beings do exactly as they please, or is the thumb of
coercion (e.g., copyright and central banking) required on the scale? And
if the latter, whose thumb? And who will control it?
All this are important questions if you have scarce resources. If
scarcity is abolished, these questions disappear with the scarcity. So
the question is how to overcome scarcity. At least Free Software shows
us a model how scarcity is abolished.
Mit Freien Grüßen