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Re: [ox-en] Some thoughts upon the GPL society

Hi Niall and all!

Last month (49 days ago) Niall Douglas wrote:
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!

Of course :-) .

Thanks for your well-structured post. As you may have expected I do
not agree with most of your points. Johan pointed out one aspect I'd
agree with.

Generally my impression is that your opinion is very much led by
capitalist ideology envisioning humans in a certain way. I think this
ideology - although wide-spread - is wrong to a considerable degree.
Below I'll try to point out this and other aspects.

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.

In other words: There are some people which have enough spare time
they do not need to use for working to fulfill their basic needs. I'd
agree with this but this is nothing new. Indeed every society has this
sort of affluence. Raising kids for instance is paid by nobody -
although dramatically important for continuation of society.

I'd even say that human societies are deeply characterized by exactly
this abundance of means to live: A human can decide how much s/he is
involved in work and need not die immediately if her reproduction
activity is low. Well, StefanMz can say more on this and does better
than me.

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.

This is a particularly weird position. It implies there is always the
same cake which is produced by some constant amount of work / human
effort. This is of course not the case. Human societies know the
development of the means of production in both its social and
technical aspects. This leads to a higher productivity which in turn
means that the human effort needed is not constant for a constant

But even the cake is not constant. It varies in size and the recipe
used for the cake also plays an important role on how nourishing the
cake is.

I for one find it at least thinkable to envision a world where (at
least) most of the (basic) needs are satisfied without needing any
form of coercion.

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.

I think this is simply not true. IMHO the wealth of the North/West
states comes mainly from the high productivity. I remember vaguely
there also has been a study which said that if the North/West would
pay fair prices to the South then its wealth would be reduced by about
30 years of development. To me this seems actually bearable.

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.

Good question. The question is how such a collapse would look like.

If we envision it as a collapse of civilization as we know it then you
are right. That would mean that the level of means of production
already achieved by capitalism would decrease dramatically basically
throwing people back in the era of subsistence - which is what we see
to some degree in Russia for instance. Productivity would be really
low then and caring about the basic needs would be a day time job.

If we envision the collapse without such a destruction of the means of
production then there is some chance, however. This would mean that
rather few people work for money while the big rest just uses the
products of the high productivity to live their life as they want.
Then an increase of production of Free Software and other Free Goods
is only a logical consequence.

Of course it's *very* questionable if the second option could become
true because it is such a contradiction to the fundaments of
capitalism. Therefore I think we need to be a bit quick with a
fundamental change so the first scenario does not catch us while we
are busy preparing the change.

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.

So what you want to go back to? Stone age? Middle ages? Seventies?

I wonder why all the people only think the level of civilization
already reached must necessarily decrease in the future. Actually if
this could be proofed in some way I'd recommend everyone to forget
about the future and live as nice as possible right now. Fortunately I
guess there is no such proof ;-) .

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.

I think there is a fundamental difference to cooperatives.
Cooperatives always have a inside and an outside. This makes it
possibles that there are abstract "others". This makes live-or-die
competition possible and under conditions of scarcity (i.e.: money)
even necessary.

I think this is different in the Free Software movement. There is only
one whole with no inside and outside. Even the logical outside of
proprietary software does not matter too much on the inside as far as
I can see. Free Software is something which exists on its own because
there are people wanting *and* living it this way.

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.

If you take this serious the Cockaigne is the best of all worlds. I
think there are numerous psychological results which tell us that the
Cockaigne drives people insane rather quickly.

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.

This is only true if people need to be forced into that activity
because the activity as such is as unattractive as it usually is in
capitalism. However, people freely engage in all kind of activities
because they are attractive to them - because of Selbstentfaltung as
we call it in Oekonux. You call it hobby and rightly so. However, the
hobby of Free Software has a number of features it makes it much more
than a simple hobby (see

The question is whether we reached a level of means of production
where the societal needed activities are attractive enough people do
them without any form of coercion - be it whips or money. Personally I
think we reached that point in several areas alrady and if
productivity continues rising these areas become more an bigger.

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.

I don't think that. This gap could be controlled by ever growing use
of force.

I think environmental change will really bring civilization as we not
it to an end. Unfortunately this danger is not as remote as I wanted
it to be.

However, I absolutely endorse inequality to
reward those who contribute to society and to penalise those who

You are very much stuck into that "Who does not work shall not eat."
This is very much capitalist ideology (going back to Christian
ideology BTW). I think the world is already different and it could be
even more so. This is where I'm heading to.

Unfortunately, most of the rich are obvious leeches whereas
many of the poor are fine people -

Are they? To me this sounds like some class based racism.

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.

Only if you think of a limited cake and if you have money. Anyway you
are speaking of richness and not wealth if I understand the fine
difference between the two notions correctly.

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

Biology can say nothing about human societies. Human societies are not
natural (= biological) but cultural (= social).

In particular I'd say there is no such thing like creativity in
nature. Evolution for instance is not a creative process in any useful
sense of the word I can think of. Evolution is a blind random process
and it makes sense only if you look at it in a teleological manner -
which is of course a grave mistake.

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.

No. It is perfectly possible to set up and run a Free Software project
as an individual. I know this from experience ;-) . Volunteers are
nice but not a necessary pre-condition. In fact I think there are a
big number of (usually small) Free Software projects out there which
have a single developer.

However, because of the global nature of Free Software the potential
of volunteers is as big as it could possibly be. So it is relatively
easy to find volunteers if you want to.

The more radical you get, the
harder it is to get enough people to agree -

I think this is also not true. As Eric S. Raymond put it I think you
need to have a good promise to be able to scratch an itch of many
people. Then you get volunteers regardless on how radically new your
idea may be.

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.

I don't think so in general. However, only a few examples come to
mind. Can someone come up with some examples of innovative Free

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

I.e. they are not Free.

to encourage a
spirit of competition and to reward good radical inventions in the
traditional fashion of entrepreneurship.

I think you are somewhat misguided about what motivates people. Money
can motivate but only in an alienated manner. The result of this
alienation is visible in the products: They are not created to be
useful in the first place but to be sold. M$ pushes this principle to
the limits - with the obvious results. That is what you want? Pay M$
for "radical inventions" (i.e. buying firms which made substantial
contributions to DOS).

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.

In other words: Tax funded Free Software production. We had some
discussions about a general income which is more or less the same but
more generalized. More or less the second collapse scenario above.
Given the state of capitalism I think it simply won't become true on
every substantial scale so I won't put any hope in that.

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.

If they work *for* money then you have state corporations - which
regarding alienation this is little different from makert
corporations. Free Software is as good as it is because people do not
work for money. The unalienated nature of Free Software is inseparable
from it's success.

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 -

Sorry, but this last sentence is simply crap. I'd even question
whether machines are necessarily more energy-expensive than humans if
you count the calories. As a quick example biking comes to mind.
Riding a bicycle is less energy-expensive than walking so at least
using a bicycle saves energy.

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.

This is all a question of energy sources. From an technical point of
view I'd say that the sun delivers so much energy to the Earth that in
the foreseeable future there is little limit in energy. The point is
to make it available - which in the end is a technological question.

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.

This changes with the universalization of machines. Computers, fabbers
and industry robots make specialized factories like the ones you
describe less necessary than during the height of the industrial age.

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

Here I would agree more. But only if money stops to command this

2. Why money became popular is still why money is popular - it lets
people compare prices, which is why the EU introduced the Euro.

Ahm - I'm a bit astonished. I think I'm part of the people and I
certainly live in the EU but personally I have nothing won by - say -
Greek people using the same currency as me. In the contrary I'm still
puzzled about the strange prices...

The Euro was forced down the throat of most of EU population - as you
can see in the countries where they dared to put this issue to a
ballot. I can't remember at least one where the people were in favor
of the Euro with a big majority. Most of the time the result was very
50-50 and given the enormous propaganda the governments did this means
that populations were against the Euro.

can remove capitalism completely and still have money and we almost
certainly shall in the coming post-capitalist age.

Yes, this is what the so-called real socialist countries did. In fact
I think capitalism is the best money based system we can think of. As
a result every system wanting to be better than capitalism needs to
abolish money - or at least make it as unimportant as religion is
today in money based societies.

3. Competition works - it is a great biological motivator of people -
though only in an overall system of cooperation.

Then we need to clarify what we mean by competition. I'd agree if it
is competition as seen in sports, games or Free Software. I'd disagree
if you are talking about economical live-or-die competition.

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.

Nothing should be sacred but I also like some qualities of
entrepreneurship. To me entrepreneurship is interesting because it
gets things moving - just as we see part of the role of maintainers of
Free Software. Indeed personally I'd discuss entrepreneurship more as
an OHA phenomenon than anything else.

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

You're welcome :-)

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.

When I say development of the means of production I'm not referring to
technical development alone. The social development is at least as
important but both aspects are intertwined heavily.

I look forward to seeing what people have to say!

Late but there ;-) .

						Mit Freien Grüßen



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