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Re: (Non-)rivalrous, public/private goods/products (was: Re: [ox-en] Free market and the Internet)

Hi Raoul,

Excellent summary!
A few comments just as an immediate reaction:

First, just defending myself regarding neo-classical versus marxist or
other non-marginalist economics. I do not think that neo-classical
economics is the way to go to understand digital 'goods'. Like you and
Stefan suggest, I think the whole topic needs the development of new
concepts. However, I'm not as bothered as you are by the word 'rivalry'
itself - sure, it was chosen for propagandist reasons, to express a
particular view of human nature, but that's just etymology - it doesn't
really matter to me what the origin of a technical word is, and I would be
happy to see it replaced with another word. Except that would cause
problems talking to people who already know THIS word. And that's the
problem - once this new conceptual framework exists, it will have to be
possible to use it to talk to people who use neo-classical terms - I'm not
sure if this is right, but I have the impression that every 1st year
American student has to talk a course in neo-classical economics; even if
it isn't compulsory, many programmers will have taken such a course, and
even those who haven't are far more likely to be familiar with the terms
of neo-classical economics than any other economic theory. And if you want
to be able to talk to people you have to find a bridge between their
concepts and yours; translation between one set of ideas and another
always distorts things to some extent, but it is necessary. It seems to me
that the idea of 'non-rivalry' will inevitably be part of that bridge (I
have to admit though that part of the reason it appeals to me is that the
idea is such a weak point for marginalist economics; it's where it fails
even in its own terms).

I also still think it says something true, though there is an element of
dishonesty in the use of the term 'public goods' by some neoclassical
economists. Samuelson wrote what must be the most-used first-year
introduction to neo-classical economics, and in it he muddles up things
like roads, which are clearly rivalrous, with non-rivalrous goods, such as
ideas. He also uses the feudal system as an example of a planned economy.
Both are examples of twisting things for the purposes of propaganda for
the current system - in his technical writing it's perfectly clear he
knows neither thing is true, but he can get away with it with students.
[this is from memory and I don't have a copy in front of me - but it 
should be easily verifiable]
But abuse of an idea doesn't invalidate the idea.

Second, one comment on your own suggestions: you wrote:

It is a fact that in a post-capitalist (GPL?) society, specially at the
beginning of it, there will be the need of social rules to manage the
distribution of scarce goods.

It seems to me there are two complementary ways of looking at a possible
GPL-society: one is to say 'how would a pure example of such a society 
work'. This is useful because it can show up logical contradictions in the
way we are thinking of it, but also dangerous because it implies you can
plan a whole society in your head - which is then either an empty utopia,
or worse, something that is imposed on people.

Another way is to concentrate on how it might evolve out of this one, how
the two coexist now, and how that coexistence might develop - or become
impossible. This is useful because it is more likely to lead to a 
conclusion about 'what can we do now', and dangerous because it can lead
to forgetting why you are doing it.

In the old marxist terms, the first approach would be that of the
pre-Leninist socialists, tending to stay as isolated sects; the second,
that of the Leninists who once in power could impose 'military labour
discipline' or see Taylorism as a science, and think this was still
compatible with socialism.

Now when you write 'in a post-capitalist (GPL?) society, specially at the
beginning of it, there will be the need of social rules to manage the  
distribution of scarce goods' it sounds as though you are following the
first approach - but with an added assumption carried over from the old
marxism: that there has been a revolution, the old society has been
destroyed, and there is a need to create a new one quickly - something
like 1917 and war communism.

The old marxism had to think along these lines because all that 
capitalism could create was its own gravediggers - the working class;
there was no possibility of communism emerging from inside capitalism as
capitalism emerged from within feudalism. I'm not clear where this idea
comes from - it doesn't seem to be ever explicit in Marx, but it certainly
seems to be taken for granted by every communist after Marx.

But if you think that free software and related free products are actually
communist, then this no longer holds. Capitalism and communism coexist.
This possible fact says nothing either way about whether the break between
this society as a whole and the new society necessarily involves a 
political revolution or not - it can be a reformist argument or not.

But it does imply that there are things the new way does better than
capitalism - capitalism needs to tie itself in knots with increasingly
absurd, oppressive, and counter-productive IP laws to produce digital
goods at all. And so, there is no need to forcibly ban the use of money to
'buy' digital goods - taking is simply superior. For scarce goods,
rationing through money works - badly and unfairly, but better than as in
Cambodia burning the banks and allocating by central command. Buying and
taking co-exist now, with buying dominant. In the future, taking can
become dominant. It may take a revolution for taking to become dominant,
but even then looked at like this there is no need to work out schemes for
'allocation of scarce resources at the start of the gpl-society'.

Hmmm. that was a very long reply to only one sentence of yours ;-)
But the question of the relationship of the idea of the gpl-society 
to the political approach of classical marxism is something that hasn't
been directly discussed on the english list - I'd be curious to know what
people think. Even if it's only 'that's absurd' ;-)



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