[ox-en] Re: Oekonux and (non)developing countries
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Sun, 01 Aug 2004 01:11:06 +0200
Hi Graham and list!
It's a bit long since the last contribution to this thread. I quote
completely therefore. Sorry for not finding time to think about your
points reasonably before.
6 months (188 days) ago Graham Seaman wrote:
Please understand I'm not arguing because I have a defined alternative
position - I don't have an 'answer' to this... But I do think there is an
important flaw somewhere in the oekonux argument if it is as you present
I'd be really interested in why you think this. Can you try to explain
what you think the flaw is? What is it you are missing?
Lets go with the terms 'developed/developing' for now, as you suggest.
The more fashionable terms seem to be North/South; I have a feeling
rich/poor might actually reflect reality better, but lets make that a
Ok, but I'd like to emphasize that even for this mail this is an
important issue - as you pointed out yourself. Indeed nowadays it is
not really possible to separate the world into locations. There are
high-tech regions (e.g. Bangalore) in otherwise (non)developing
countries and there are de-/un-industrialized regions in the developed
countries (e.g. Italy's south). Also there are countries which are in
between - China is for sure such an example. In other words:
Globalization separates the nation state.
On Sun, 25 Jan 2004, Stefan Merten wrote:
Last month (44 days ago) Graham Seaman wrote:
Alternatively, why is the role of free software in developing countries
not part of oekonux theories, which concentrate entirely on the developed?
I'd say what I know of Oekonux theory rests very much on the
development of the productive forces. In particular I'd say that the
revolvment of society in some fundamental way (to avoid the somewhat
loaded meaning of revolution) will take place where the productive
forces are developed to the point where - in this case - the
principles of production of Free Software burst the current mode of
production. Yes, this rests very much on Marx' theory - and not the
Marxists which probably never understood that bit.
OK, what does 'where the productive forces are developed' mean? I'm not
sure this kind of localization does have any meaning any more.
As pointed out above I agree with you. When I write "where the
productive forces are developed" then I'm thinking not even of
regions. More of situations - a very fine grained perspective. For
instance the Free Software developers in South America participate in
this while 50 meters away a child dies of hunger because the old model
of society (aka capitalism) does not work good enough.
you're not talking about knowledge of technology: there is more detailed
empirical knowledge about how to manufacture chips, for example, in Taiwan
than in Germany.
Sure. But do you consider Taiwan a (non)developing country?
And I assume you're not talking about manufacture: I just
read, and find it quite likely, that no DVD players are made in the USA,
and most are made in China. Are any developed in Germany, in any sense of
the word 'developed'?
I have no idea. But I'm not talking about manufacturing either. I
don't know about the details of manufacturing DVD players actually but
I guess this is a relative "simple" job in terms of the work force you
need for it - given the machines / industry for it. I guess even
developing DVD players is a relatively simple task - ChristophB here
who could have an idea?
The point is: Where does interesting development of products and other
things take place? I think it is in the heads of people who have a
relatively high degree of (technical) education. There are some in
(non)developing countries but I think there are a lot more in the rest
of the world.
So to enhance my point I'd say: Oekonux theory applies to those who
have the pre-conditions for this societal development step. It does
not matter very much whether they live in Germany of Uganda. However,
in Germany there are probably more of them so their influence, their
interests are more important politically.
So presumably you're talking about consumption:
people in Europe, for example, consume more advanced technology per head
than people in developing countries. But I don't see that the idea that
high consumption of technology defines the geographical point where social
change will take place has any particular relation with Marx's theories.
No, I'm not talking about consumption.
It seems to me your argument is based on a very 19th century view of the
relationship between development and the nation state; pre globalization.
I hope I were able to point out that this is not the case.
This might be the reason why to you it looks like Oekonux theory
concentrates on the developed countries.
Yes. But I think there is an underlying reason for it which is much less
theoretical; that 99% of people on the German list, and 90% (guessing
wildly) on the English list come from countries generally classified
as 'developed'and happily accept a set of pre-theoretical 'common-sense'
ideas about the rest of the world.
This is of course perfectly possible.
Until the FLOSS surveys I think most
US developers assumed most free software development was done in the US;
not we know empirically that this is not so clear cut. That was just a
question of numbers; when it comes to observing innovations coming from
outside the developed area, we are likely to be even more biased.
Ok, so to put the question straight in the context outlined above:
What innovation do you see from an Chinese farmer living in the middle
of Central Asia?
However, I'm not so sure
about this. At the moment I'd say this is too much of a prediction of
future to be serious about.
Observation of what is happening NOW combined with predictions of the
future based on those observations is exactly the way the original oekonux
project started, isn't it?
Yes. But in this case IMHO this is a question about the concrete way
the change will come about. I'm careful with such predictions.
Maybe I'm wrong about the importance of this,
but social innovations I've seen over the last year (NOT predictions of
the future) all seem to be coming from outside the developed area, three
- fusion of questions of rights to intellectual monopoly of every kind,
whether covered by patent, copyright or other laws (India, Australia,
South Africa...) (while this is still frantically resisted especially
in the US; as everyone knows, patents are unproblematic for everything
except software. Or were: maybe medicine is a problem. But the retreat
from this position is grudging)
Well, hundred years ago the USA would probably have been among these
countries. The reason for this is: As long as a country has no own
industrial / high-developed production it is more reasonable to reject
every such artificial scarceness. This changes as soon as the role of
the country changes - look at the USA who for a long time did not
respect the Bern declaration until they had more profit than loss from
So this is hardly innovative but what every (non)developing country
- merger of free software development with political movements without
fracturing the free software movement (Brazil in particular) - something
people in the developed countries seem to find impossible
May be - but why? Sometimes I have the feeling that in the
non-(non)developing countries politics has such a bad name that nobody
likes to have any relation with politics. For instance I remember very
well that when in former times I told people about myself being active
in politics this was always followed by "but not party politics". To
me this fundamental and probably unprecedented de-politicization looks
like one of the crisis symptoms of capitalism.
On the other hand sometimes I feel that in (non)developing countries
this is different. Politics seem to have a value there for people. One
particular example which comes to mind is Brazil after Lula took over.
A change in the government seemingly *can* change politics in
(non)developing countries. But in Europe? Tell me one relevant
social-democratic party which has a really different program - let
alone practice - from their competitors.
- the precise statement of why states have a moral obligation
to use free software; the first big step forward in theoretical terms
over the original formulations of the FSF, mainly developed in latin
America (Argentina in particular)
Well, but this is a *moral* obligation. In other words: It is totally
based on idealist thinking. For centuries the left argued in a moral
way about the obligations of the state - with exactly what result?
Moral is a nice thing to disguise interests. If this "moral
obligation" actually has any effect it is because of the non-idealist
/ materialist consequences of "obeying" this obligation.
Or is its role the same everywhere?
In the way I described it above the role is indeed the same
Yes. But since there are in fact obvious differences, it is important to
know whether the fact that your theory ignores those differences is just
due to justifiable abstraction, or is a sign of a problem with the theory.
I hope I could point out that I don't think these differences are
ignored. The real difference is between the Chinese farmer in the
middle of nowhere^H^H^H^H^H^H^H central Asia and the computer hacker
in New York. If you are able to show that this is an unjustifiable
abstraction than I'd agree that there is a problem with the theory.
However, what we see today in (non)developing countries about Free
Software is very well explainable without any of Oekonux theory - as
people pointed out in this thread.
This is exactly analogous to what people also say about free software
being explainable without oekonux theory: most is developed by big
companies, the motivation of those who do it outside such companies is
simply to advertise their suitability for work,
Which is at least not on the top of the agenda of those doing so...
free software is a healthy
reaction which will restore competivity to an areas of the market
dominated by monopolies, etc. It can be fitted into marginalist economic
theories (with only a little contortion, but hey..)
I'd agree if there are more examples of this. I think (one of) the
unique and unprecedented feature of Free Software is that it came
(back) from hobbyism and competes successfully with usual commodity
products. If marginalist theory building finds more such examples this
would be indeed interesting to discuss.
Sure, you CAN explain it without the theory: but does the theory add any
additional insights; is the theory somehow truer than alternatives; does
it predict the future better? If so, then the theory is the better way to
There are simply a number of big advantages Free Software has over
proprietary software for (non)developing countries. Some time ago I
(German only - but would be easy to translate) to name the advantages
of Free Software for (non)-developing counties which came to my mind
at this time.
I don't understand the reason why your list is appropriate for one group
of countries and not another: it seems to me that the entire list applies
to all countries.
Yes. The point of the list probably is, that for the
non-(non)developing countries the points are no extra advantage.
Though gee, I am glad it lets me communicate with people
in the 'industrialised countries'. That would be Korea? It's surely not
where I live, where industry has been vanishing for a long time :-(
Mit Freien Grüßen
Organization: projekt oekonux.de