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[ox-en] Some thoughts upon the GPL society

Hi all,

I know I'm just blazing on in here with my first post and all, but I
hope you'll take what I say next as constructive criticism and not as
personal criticism! Since there's so little in English to work from
(and my German is rusty), I've mostly based my thoughts upon "Free
Software & GPL society" by Stefen Merten. I know from reading through
the archives here that his view is not necessarily that of anyone
else in here, but I'm also pretty sure that my viewpoint will be
quite dissimilar from anyone else's judging from archived posts.
You'll probably find my views a weird mix of hard right and hard left
opinion :)

Firstly, let me just say that I am a free software believer -
software, like individual liberty, should be as free as possible so
long as it's *self-sustainable*. I am not however a believer in the
GPL which I view as fundamentally flawed and non-free - however, I do
like the LGPL very much (apart from its clause 3) which if tidied up,
is close to my ideal "bill of rights" for software in the communal
pool. My realisation of what's wrong with the GPL began about this
time last year and is now well-developed enough to have its own
webpage at (my
apologies for its sloppy language, it is a work in progress).

My first criticism is that most free software isn't just produced -
it is created like all art through the affluence of a population
giving its citizens enough free time not spent working to enable it
to be produced as a hobby. Thus, free software is entirely predicated
on the existence of a rich elite whom like the ancient Greek
philosophers we all know, only can have time & freedom to make art
because they live off the toil, misery and death of the workers.
While the Greeks had large slave populations, we here in the West
live in opulance while hundreds of millions of our economic slaves in
the third world die to keep us fat & rich. If the global economic
system which I agree is due for collapse within twenty years does so,
you can expect free software production to be one of the first things
to almost universally stop.

This does not make it a new economy, a new way of thinking or
anything else. Like the Greeks in antiquity who wrote things like "a
gentleman should have leisure", we are mistaking our superb living
conditions as being a dich an sein. That is a utopia.

I would personally view free software as being a cooperative like a
cooperative business so common in socialist countries. I take four
free software libraries and combine them to make another free
software library which I return to the communal pool. Everyone
benefits. It's hardly some new form of economy, cooperatives are
basically a more abstract form of a tribe or village.

Secondly, like Marxism there is an assumption that the worker wants
to work. This is arse - most humans will do as little as possible for
as much gain which is why capitalism is so pernicious. Perhaps 20% of
a population DO want to work and will take pride in their work but
the majority must be whipped into activity, either through exploiting
their greed and insecurities or through throwing them into poverty.

Now let me be clear, I am the first to bang on about the inequality
of the world and I furthermore believe that the growing gap between
rich and poor globally is the single biggest threat to our
civilisation's survival. However, I absolutely endorse inequality to
reward those who contribute to society and to penalise those who
don't. Unfortunately, most of the rich are obvious leeches whereas
many of the poor are fine people - in my mind, the best solution to
that is to prevent people being /too/ rich that they can stop looking
over their shoulder - this would be best achieved by encouraging the
rich to spend more money on improving society via tax breaks. If you
don't do any of that, I support a 95% income tax rate on any earnings
above 200,000 euro per year - too much individual wealth is bad for
society as it means someone else being poor.

Thirdly, and my final major point, is that volunteer software
production does not enable creativity - it is a *conformist* paradigm
whereby the output tends to converge with time. Any student of
biology knows that creativity can only happen in a /divergent/ system
which is worked against by the volunteer nature of free software

I go into this much more in the website link I posted above, but to
summarise a free software project can only go places if enough
volunteers agree on a common direction. The more radical you get, the
harder it is to get enough people to agree - therefore, free software
tends to clone existing functionality in small steps rather than ever
come up with something truly original. One can thus call this system
good at creating *incremental* innovation but poor at creating *step-
change* innovation.

Therefore in my view, software in the communal pool should be the
bread & butter stuff which is useful to everyone - it should be free
of cost. However software pushing into new radical areas as well as
bespoke solutions & customisations should cost money to encourage a
spirit of competition and to reward good radical inventions in the
traditional fashion of entrepreneurship. After five or seven years,
all new software must enter the communal pool so new inventions can
be made and the cycle continued.

As software costs nothing to replicate, forcing people to pay is hard
- therefore I would propose that say five or ten percent of general
taxation be paid into a fund which is then dispersed to those who
invent the best stuff. If the fund for example set up a number of
fast root servers which collected stats on downloads, this could be
quite easy. Indeed, this could be a solution for all digitally
representable media eg; music, books, movies etc. as the current
system of enforcing information scarcity is clearly not long-term
sustainable - though software is far more useful to society than
other digital information because our civilisation's continued
evolution is heavily predicated on improved software - therefore,
computer software programmers should be very keenly rewarded for
their work. The biggest problem with this idea is that it requires
ending western hegemonic economic policy and to treat the third world
totally equally to the west which hasn't happened in centuries :(

Some smaller points:

1a. Automated production is invariably very energy-expensive &
environmentally-expensive. The only reason why some machines are
cheaper than humans is that currently energy is cheap and we ignore
costs to the environment - however, with the coming end of the oil
age and severe climate disturbance which has already begun that will
radically change. Chances are we'll be dismantling many of the
factories and replacing them with humans who are much more energy &
environmentally efficient.
1b. Automated production tends to require scale of economy. Scale of
economy depends on the mass movement of large quantities of raw
materials. Currently our production is very centralised in that a few
very large specialised factories usually located in the third world
make most of our durable goods. Unfortunately, mass transit is also
very energy-expensive and environmentally-expensive and is even more
predicated on oil than automated production itself. You can expect to
say bye-bye to the artificially cheap transport we take for granted
2. Why money became popular is still why money is popular - it lets
people compare prices, which is why the EU introduced the Euro. You
can remove capitalism completely and still have money and we almost
certainly shall in the coming post-capitalist age.
3. Competition works - it is a great biological motivator of people -
though only in an overall system of cooperation. The British Empire
was founded on a set of educated brats competing to outdo each other
in subjugating what has now become the third world. As soon as the
same educated brats moved into anti-cooperative competition, the
empire ossified and fell. I very much like the idea of
entrepreneurship, it brings out the greatest in creative & unorthodox
solutions and any system which didn't have it crumbled within
decades. Entrepreneurship more than anything is what makes capitalism
great and in my opinion, we should mark it as sacred.

Well, that's probably enough for now. It should be remembered that
while I am emphasising the differences the very fact I have joined
this list indicates that overall I do agree that different economic
rules do apply to software development in general and that with
mindful reform of the legal support for software from the crap we
currently have hindering us, we could usher in a new age of superb
software which will make the last twenty years look like a bad
mistake. All society, all technological research would bound ahead. I
believe that Brookes' mythical silver bullet of 10x productivity gain
in one single invention does exist - but it's not a technological
one, it's an *organisational* one - and open source/free software is
providing all the right clues.

I look forward to seeing what people have to say!



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