Impotent radicals

A minor SF writer of radical Marxist political convictions recently uttered a rather incoherent rant in which, among other things, she accused me of “simple-minded right-wing” views. I’m not going to name her because I don’t dislike the woman enough to want to add to her troubles. But I’ve heard this song before from other Marxists, and I can’t resist commenting on why I find such accusations darkly amusing.

The surface reason is that anyone who can describe a thoroughgoing libertarian anarchist like me as “right-wing” has already given evidence of having a set of political categories so far out of contact with reality that all one can do is laugh. Yeah, sure, I’m all about the right-wing agenda of freezing existing social power relationships in place or returning them to an idealized former state. Not!

But there’s something deeper and much funnier going on here. What do radical Marxists want? Among other things, they want to upend the system of industrial capitalism, abolish property rights, and give control of production to the workers.

So, let’s see. They pick on a guy who has a) successfully challenged the industrial-capitalist system of software production, b) argued, effectively, that the assertion of intellectual-property rights leads to bad outcomes, and c) helped lead the charge to put programming back in the control of programmers. And the ripple effects of my work have gone way beyond programming; it’s been cited by insurgent movements in bioinformatics, library science, game design, pharmaceuticals, third-world development economics, and half a dozen other disciplines.

And, you know, it’s not like I’ve made any secret of the fact that I believe open-source thinking has radical political consequences in the longer term. I’ve said many times that the economic-efficiency arguments for open-source decentralization should sufficient to get people to do it without buying my politics. Then I’ve turned around and observed that learning how to do without centralization and big management in one area provides people with both working models and efficiency arguments for getting rid of authority hierarchies elsewhere. Yeah, sure, that’s a conservative prescription!

I’ve even argued — in front of Wall Street analysts, and had them buy it! — that we’re entering an era in which the traditional capital-intensive, management-intensive corporate form is less and less appropriate for managing production in which the main bottleneck is skilled human attention. I don’t use the term “workers’ cooperative” for what’s replacing it, but hello…hello? Can’t any of the so-called “progressive” thinkers in the Marxist camp put two and two together?

“Right-wing”. It is to laugh. It is to laugh exceedingly.

Poor impotent radicals. After all their theorizing, they can’t recognize a real revolution even when its goals and actual achievements strongly parallel what they’ve been saying they want since 1860. But it’s 2005 as I write; by historical definition, these are the same people who didn’t get the lesson the Soviet Union taught about collectivist economics and the actual consequences of taking Marxism seriously. Expecting them to have any more intelligence than a pile of broken cinderblocks might be a bit much.

But let’s be charitable and assume some of them can string together two thoughts without drooling uncontrollably. After what I’ve done and written, how the hell can they mistake me for any kind of conservative?

The easy, cheap shot would be to say they’re too busy masturbating in front of their Che Guevara posters to notice what a successful revolutionary looks like. And there’d be lot of truth in that cheap shot; Western Marxists, in my experience, are more about self-congratulation on their own moral superiority and radical hipness than they are about actually changing the world they live in. They’d rather mouth the right slogans than do the hard work needed to actually realize the revolution they want.

But again, I think there’s something deeper going on here. Because, unlike me, these self-proclaimed, self-indulgent so-called “radicals” don’t behave as though they actually want the existing order to be smashed. Consider, in this connection, the jaw-dropping incoherence of anybody who advocates proletarian revolution and then slams me for arguing that the people should be armed against the arrogance of government.

These soi-disant Marxists and leftists claim to champion “the people” with one breath, then want to disarm them in the next — giving more power to the plutocratic fat cats who, in the Marxist view of the world, own the police and the government and the army.

And they dare call me a conservative? That’s just too funny for words.

55 thoughts on “Impotent radicals

  1. MOst of us will, on occasion, mutter something like, “When I’m Dictator of the World…” in a darkly humorous way. There isn’t anything humorous about that mutter when uttered by a committed MArxist These folks want to “upend the social order” alright – so then
    *they’ll* be in charge.

    My email is human readable – aloud.

  2. I’m going to take a wild guess here, because you refused to provide us with context for this minor SF writer’s rant (not even so much as a full sentence in quotation!), and suppose that her issue was not so much with your stance on the freedom of software, but with your belief that the invasion of the beardy hordes in imminent, and we’ve got to follow our Fearless Leader because he’s our only salvation from their beardiness. Which I would, indeed, characterize as simple-minded as well as right-wing.

    I mean, that’d be my first guess. Just throwin’ it out there.

  3. Alright, so I’m confused. Aren’t you the same member of the Eric Conspiracy who defended yourself when Nikolai Bezroukov called you a Marxist?

  4. grendelkhan, your guess about the Marxist’s objections and your model of my views are both wildly inaccurate. The next time I argue for obedience to a Fearless Leader will be the first.

  5. Daniel, I judge Marxism to have been the most malignant form of idiocy in human history (albeit with stiff competition from Christianity and Islam). No, I’m not positioning myself as a Marxist, just being amused that Marxists have so much trouble recognizing anti-authoritarian radicalism even when its consequences parallel what they say they want.

  6. Let’s review.

    You own and use guns.

    You support free markets and individual freedom — in spite of the social injustice and wide class disparity that “free markets” as implemented by the white Anglo-Murkan collective ostensibly cause.

    You enjoy a nice barbecue, and you like your women the way you like your salsa: extra hot.

    And finally — this is the tricky part — you support the war in Iraq and exhibit general opposition to any culture which doesn’t meet your lofty cultural norms (which sound a lot like the dreamy Murkan structured narratives about liberty and justice for all).

    To your average fluffbunny leftist, that puts you squarely in redneck territory, and therefore, renders you not worth taking seriously. It’s dead simple once you get down to it, almost magnificent in its pseudointellectual logic.

    One thing worth remembering is that the political terms “left” and “right” have no real universal referents; so to the soi-disant left if it looks, walks, and quacks like a right-winger, guess what it is presumed to be. It works vice-versa, too, by the way.

  7. LOL! Reminds me of the email I got from an incensed commie who called me a ‘class traitor’ for writing a paen to the free market while working as a truck stop cashier. I replied that I was an armed self-educated hillbilly, and therefore had no class. ;)

  8. grendelkhan, the thought that Eric would argue for obedience to a Fearless Leader is nearly as funny as that he would be a right-winger.

  9. Eric, I have been in contact with folks who judge Marxism to be not nearly as damaging or idiotic as the American race- and class-based capitalist construct, and perhaps simply a coopted and impotent reaction to the same. I submit that your expressed opinions are partially the result of your direct benefit from, and attachment to, this construct.

  10. Jeff: please forward the contact info for your “folks” to those tens of millions of individuals systematically slaughtered by 20th century communist regimes. Oops, I forgot. They’re dead. Nevermind.

  11. First, I am, also, a Marxist. I have read the communist manifesto and the economic manuscripts, part of the capital, and have the culture to know that Kant -> Fichte -> Hegel -> Feuerbach -> Marx/Engles. I deplore the excesses of the Soviet Union, as well as the People’s Republic of China and Cuba, in trying to create the People’s state, although to be honest I very much doubt that the leaders who have settled themselves as a managerial class on top of the people are at all interested in sharing power and economic produce anymore in those states, or in the USSR of Stalin. However, at core I’m still a Marxist, who thinks that class struggle is still ongoing, who thinks that private property in the means of production and the free market are necessarily causes of contingent injustice and human suffering. However, I am very much in favour of Open Source/Free Software (I identify more with Stallman than with ESR). I think Free Software is showing that a different model to market production and to command economy is possible, based on cooperative participatory planning.

    I think that Marx, and you would find out if you read him carefully, was deeply anti-authoritarian and he would have been distressed at seeing what his interpreters made of his insights. Likewise I think (and Marx roughly agrees with me) that the people, once in power, must find whatever economic structures work to produce and distribute goods equitably. At the moment I support Participatory Economics but I’m not at all convinced that a pre-revolutionary person can make this choice in any meaningful sense.

    The guns issue is a difficult one for the left, because even the radical Communist parties have been forced by contingencies (USSR and the apparent success of European social democracy) to absorb reformist attitudes more fitting in parties like SPD (Germany) or PSOE (Spain). The standard social-democratic position on guns is “we need order and State power to do our reforms, and we’ll have a much nicer time if people are unarmed”. I’m not personally sure what the best response is on guns, although I do agree that with a disarmed population revolution becomes a very hard proposition indeed.

    Anyway, Just trying to show, insofar as it is possible to do so, that not all Marxists are as stupid as they want to portray us.

  12. No, no, Eric. What you are is objectively right-wing. And as long as you support the current administration’s policies, you will be just another part, somewhat more extreme than most, of the politically dominant Republican coalition.

  13. If I’m “objectively” right wing, the term “right” has ceased to have any meaning at all. Unless you think the likes of Rick Santorum are welcoming Wiccan anarchists into their fold? And as for “supporting the current administration’s policies” — well, basically just one of them. The war. I’m not happy with the level of domestic spending or Homeland Security or “faith based outreach” or any of that crap.

    As for being de facto part of the Republican coalition, I guess I have to cop to that, pleading in my defense only that I’d rather not be and am here only because the other side proved itself, in the wake of 9/11, to be utterly insane.

  14. Soviet communism (which isn’t Marxism) is a different beast. It is not an opposition to the left-brained self-talking brutality of the West but rather just a different version of it; in fact, by narratising the development of these two forms as a “struggle” or “war” in which one must emerge victorious and set the standard for the world, as was done in the Cold War between U.S. capitalism and Soviet communism, you stand a good chance of extending the life of either or both forms of barbarism. Think “1984” and you will get the picture.

    Nazism — fast burn — deadly
    Soviet communism — medium burn — deadlier
    Murkan capitalist hegemony — slow burn — deadliest?

    Or if you prefer, think of the difference between a virus such as Ebola which quickly kills its victim and one such as HIV which works slowly, leaving its host just as dead but giving it enough time to spread surreptitiously and infect many more hosts, insuring its longevity. And then consider how the Murkan model has been successfully propagated throughout the rest of the world — Europe, Japan, India, China, and now the Middle East. If capitalistic squandering of natural resources continues apace, then we’re looking down the barrel of a bodycount in the BILLIONS:

    http://www.dieoff.org

    If anything the Marxists were optimists. They recognised the gross injustices of capitalism but expected the underclasses to be more aware, and more capable of revolution, than they turned out to be, and underestimated the effectiveness of the contrivers of American governance.

  15. Eric, I think you’ve had your little twist twisted upon yourself and have either failed to notice or pretended so. Obviously he means objectively right wing in the same sense as you would consider anti-war (or call them what you will) activists objectively islamofascist, although they would not see themselves in that light.

  16. The U.S does not have a ‘free market’. It has a ‘freer market’ than the odious concept of a ‘command economy’, and that market becomes less free by the day. Taxes, regulations, tarrifs, the Fed Reserve, fiat currency, inflationary politics, eminent domain becoming ever more eminent, RICO, the War on Drugs, etc. ad nauseum. The State is a friggin’ parasite on the free human market.

    If capitalistic squandering of natural resources continues apace, then we’re looking down the barrel of a bodycount in the BILLIONS

    Spare me. This idiocy only looks scary if one considers the planet Earth to be some holy repository of ‘natural resources’ that will somehow last forever if only noble enviro-fruits were allowed to husband and control it. That’s such a laughably primitive view that I am astonished that any modern literate human being can hold it. The human race was meant to eat the earth and use it to jumpstart Diaspora, heading into the black at as large a fraction of lightspeed that it can muster.

    Guess what? We’re not going to get there with enviro-fruits whining that solar power satellites might fuck with migratory bird patterns and other similar bullshit. We’re not going to get there when The State’s idea of a space program is to operate a crude 50’s tech orbital truck to service cell phone and spy sats. We’re not going to get there as long as ‘safety’ is the first rule of space exploitation. (Yes, I said EXPLOITATION! Booga-booga, Marxists!) Frontiers are conquered on the blood and bones of pioneers. There is no other way.

  17. It will never cease to amaze me how so many intelligent people can be so utterly stupid.

    There are only three political philosophies:

    1. The collective has rights, and those rights are superior to the rights of the individual

    2. The individual has rights, but also responsibilities to the members of the collective. The collective has no rights, and those responsibilites owed to it’s members are at best equal to the rights of the individual.

    3. The individual has all rights which are superior, and no responsiblities

    Fundamentally, that’s all there is to it. I personally believe that if YOU believe in 1, or 3, no matter how smart you are, you’re an idiot.

    Anarchy and collectivism (3 and 1 respectively) are fundamnetaly wrong. Collectivism requires the subjugation of human freedom to the will of the collective in all things. I believe that this is objectively evil. Anarchy inevitably results in the total subjugation of the weak by the strong, which is also objectively evil.

    If you believe in a “balance” between 1 and 2, you’re wrong as well, because there is no balance between the two. Collectives do not have rights. Individuals have rights, and responsiblities are owed by individuals to the members of a collective. There are no collective rights.

    If you believe in a balance between 2 and 3 you’re wrong, there is no balance point. Either you owe responsibilities to the members of the collective, or you don’t.

    And no, I’m not going to softpedal this and say “this is my opinion”. I believe that what I have said is objectively true, and not subject to opinion. My first principle is that the unwilling subjugation of human liberty is always objectively evil; unless it is to prevent an individual from transgressing upon the fundamental liberties of others.

    I cannot comprehend how any other first principle could be correct.

    If you are arguing from a different first principle, stop right now, because no useful discussion can occur between individuals who share different first principles on a subject; except as relates to those first principles themselves.

  18. Well finally, someone equating Marxism and Open Source. It’s about time.

    Anyone have any idea what the market cap of companies that are exclusively open source? I note redhat is roughly 2Billion. The market capitalization of the software industry is about 480 Billion. Given the squaking of the open source community, you would think it provided much more than this meager value.

    I’d love a few more answers to some of my burning questions on this topic. Like, why is it that things which are easily copied should be free? Take prescription drugs. The cost to develop a prescription drug is on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars, closing in on a billion dollars. Once it is developed should drug companies just give up the recipe? After all, it is just IP, and the cost to replicate is almost nothing.

    What about the core designs of ICs? Should we turn over the blueprints of all the VHDL and verilog in the chips? Just because it is the design of gates in a chip versus design of flow of a processor doesn’t make it any different. Oh, and then there is Broadcom, which is a fabless semiconductor manufacturer, with a market cap of 12 Billion dollars. Obviously, if anyone could take Broadcom’s designs and replicate them the value of the company would be much less. And, I suspect, the progress made for things Broadcom develops would likewise slow down.

    Anyone have any idea how much open source is subsidized by the Government, by research grants, etc? That, in my mind, is outright theft.

    I don’t get this open source stuff. Yeah, I read the “Cathedral and the Bazaar,” and it has good points about development process, but it doesn’t provide a compelling vision of how you make an open source equivalent of Broadcom.

    My personal belief, as a software developer, is that open source diminishes the value of my work.

  19. neal, you should read my third paper, The Magic Cauldron for a detailed discussion of open-source business models.

    I don’t advocate that prescription drugs should be free; in fact I don’t advocate that anything should be free as in zero price, unless it’s offered as a gift. Software is a weird special case, because it turns out that the most efficient way to extract revenue from it is via service contracts rather than a conventional sale price. I show why this is in detail in the paper, and my analysis has been endorsed by real economists (it turns out to be the kind of proof that’s simple to follow once you have the right starting idea).

    As for open source decreasing the value of your work…consider this question. When the price of cars drops, what happens to the hourly rates of mechanics?

    If you’ve noticed that it goes up, take a prize. When consumers buy a bundled good, and the price of the aggregate goes down, it’s efficient for them to use more of the good (substituting it for other goods). This means they spend more on the other components.

    That’s right: this means that when the price of software drops, the demand for programmers rises. And your salary goes up with it.

    None of this has anything to do with Marxism, or astrology or phrenology or creationism or the flat-Earth theory or any other form of toxic drivel. It’s all market economics.

  20. > I think that Marx, and you would find out if you read him carefully, was deeply anti-authoritarian

    No, he was merely not in a position of authority.

    Given authority, leftists become quite authoritarian.

  21. I find it amusing that you complain about this:

    ——- Included Stuff Follows ——-
    The HTML Hell Page
    http://www.catb.org/~esr/html-hell.html

    CSS that changes the hotlink colors

    Isn’t it fun when you surf to a page and your eyes stall
    out trying to figure out which piece of text are
    hotlinks? That underlined blue and purple are valuable
    navigational cues in the Web jungle. If the page has
    multi-colored links or links that are not easily
    distinguishable, then this is another case where
    overriding the browser’s settings should be punishable
    by intimate acquaintance with a flensing knife.

    ——— Included Stuff Ends ———

    yet on http://www.catb.org/~esr/projects.html, the page that led me to your “HTML Hell” page, your CSS seems to violate this principle, at least in part. While the links stand out nicely, they’re blue regardless of whether or not I have clicked them. This makes it impossible to differentiate between unvisited links (the purple ones) and the links that I have visited (normally blue).

  22. Eric, the reason you are a simple-minded right-winger (and will always be one) is because you don’t want the revolution for the right *reasons*. I’m working on a posting talking about the importance of intention (but don’t click until Friday because I haven’t fully baked it yet).

  23. Angus, I can’t reproduce the problem you report under Firefox. My links turn purple just fine.

  24. Open Source isn’t Marxism, it’s Anarcho-Syndicalism. No real surprise, since ESR is an Anarcho-Capitalist and they have a lot in commmon.

    Oh, and left vs. right: right=support for those currently in power, left=opposition to those currently in power. At least, that was the original difference (based on the seating plan of the French National Assembly in 1789). When the Jacobins came into power, they sat on the right and were referred to as “droit” – ie rightwing.

    Quite what left and right actually mean is a very good question; at least until c.1900, the usual meanings were not principally about economics, but about the distribution of political power, on which basis, ESR is definitely left, as am I, even though we’re politically miles apart. Marx was left, but Communism in practice was right, in that it did not seek to widen the basis of political power, but to narrow it.

    Since 1917, left and right have generally been about the distribution of economic power: true conservatives like the market because they think that it reinforces existing economic power relations. ESR likes the market for almost exactly the opposite reason – ie it overthrows existing economic relations when they are failing. This makes him arguably on the market left, but that’s so narrow – a belief that the rich should only be rich if they have earned that status is so unusual that it’s hard to place.

    Which rather proves the point that left and right are probably meaningless in 2005.

  25. Chris I don’t think that was “well said”. (Cf. comments on yr blog). “unwilling subjugation of human liberty is always objectively evil; unless it is to prevent an individual from transgressing upon the fundamental liberties of others.” To me the abrogation of the right to bear arms, and the cutting off of penises (in your other example) could be excused by this principle, no?

  26. Matt, only if you assume that the preventative principle should apply to the collective, and that the collective shoulde have the right to carry it out against the individual.

    Remember, the collective has no rights, therefore the so called preventative principal can not be abused in that manner.

  27. You know, considering how we are constantly informed that Marxism is dead, I find it odd that right-wingers and libertarians just can’t get enough of blasting it.

    Unfortunately, they also have the tendency to lump any political philosophy or idea which doesn’t fit into their view as “Marxist”, which is simply absurd. A fair number of individuals the American political landscape declares “leftists” are anything but Marxist – Keynesian would be a better term, but that doesn’t quite have the same pejorative sting as “pinko commie”, does it?

    Anyways, I did have a point here, and it is this: why do you continue to flog the dead horse of Marxism, Eric (and other economic conservatives), if it really is so dead? Be honest – no one gives a shit what “a minor SF writer of radical Marxist political convictions” thinks. The right-wing hacks within the blogosphere, of course, love to go nuts whenever Joe Tenure, Ph.D. or some left-leaning celebrity whomever makes some wild, ridiculous statement that will never be taken seriously by anyone anywhere, largely because it’s easier than actual debate. But what’s the point of it, other than to feel better about oneself?

  28. The Magic Cauldron says:

    “Homesteading the Noosphere [HtN] examined the social dynamics within which this `bazaar’ style of development is situated, arguing that it is most effectively understood not in conventional exchange-economy terms but as what anthropologists call a `gift culture’ in which members compete for status by giving things away”.

    The above is not unlike The Godfather culture: “Some day -and that day may never come- I will be coming to ask you for a favor”.

    Politicians, too, are firm believers in the you scratch my back… philosophy.

    -RFH

  29. neal wrote:
    ——————–
    Anyone have any idea what the market cap of companies that are exclusively open source? I note redhat is roughly 2Billion. The market capitalization of the software industry is about 480 Billion. Given the squaking of the open source community, you would think it provided much more than this meager value.
    ——————–

    Neal:

    How about adding the market cap of companies *using* OSS?

    Why did you choose to leave out the IBMs, Oracles and HPs of the world so conveniently for your $480B sum?

    -Ramon

  30. So I read “The magic Cauldron,” or most of it. There is so much I disagree with this paper that it would be hard to do all of it. But, let’s just look at this one contradiction it makes:

    ” The complexity and communications overhead of an open-source project is almost entirely a function of the number of developers involved; having more end users who never look at source costs effectively nothing. ”

    So support costs nothing to provide.

    ” When the price of cars goes down, the demand for auto mechanics goes up—which is why even those 5% of programmers now compensated by sale-value would be very unlikely to suffer in an open-source world. ”

    But, as you argue above, there is no need for more mechanics (i.e., repairmen). Support costs nothing to provide, so there is almost no value add. But, since the software is free, the support is what you get to charge for. So where is the value add?

    You devote an article to showing how free software is destroying uSoft (Microsoft’s Worst Nightmare?) But, let’s see. In one article somewhere you claim there is more Linux installed now than there is Windows. I don’t want to do a detailed analysis of this, and the numbers might be off. But, Redhat owns about 1/2 of the Linux market with a market cap of 2Billion. Assuming then an overall market value in providing Linux at $4Billion. MSFT has a market cap of $287B. If only one tenth of that comes from operating systems, then it is still nearly eight times higher market cap than the open source equivalent.

    I would say the market has spoken.

  31. “Neal:

    How about adding the market cap of companies *using* OSS? ”

    Because my software specialty is writing “C” software, not writing verilog and VHDL. When IBM and HP start giving away their verilog for free, I’ll consider it. I.e., they are exploiting free “C” software to sell their closed “verilog and vhdl” software.

  32. Neal, could you explain how market capitalization is a measure of the value a company provides to the world? There are lots of things that go into that, including fixed assets needed to produce the product – and for which the requirement will be much lower for a Red Hat than for a Microsoft, since Red Hat can build on the work of others, while Microsoft must do it all itself.

  33. “Neal, could you explain how market capitalization is a measure of the value a company provides to the world?”

    I’m not sure I said anything about value, but honestly I suspect that the other measures that have been tried fall short.

    The reason for including market capitalization is that Eric stated that “Economists have blessed my model.” To me that sounds like theory, vs. practice. I take pracitce to be what people are willing to pay plus the attendent value people place in the ability of companies to extract value by way of market cap. Certainly not perfect, for instance the various bubbles, but we are post bubble anyway.

  34. A bold rant, peaking in “bioinformatics”, and troughing in “people shall be armed”. But, like the blog, you C0nservative sadd0.

    Love, a non-Marxist, non-gun-owning citizen

  35. Jeff: As has been mentioned, the so-called “free markets” (capitalistic systems) are anything but “free markets” and are indeed parasites. This is largely where the waste comes in.

    On the one hand, aside from these controlled systems that purport to be free markets, yet screw things up, people need to take personal responsibility. If we’re talking about the suffering billions, then we need to look at their role in subscribing to primitive belief systems (cultural or religious) that keep them in squalor. A large part of the suffering of the third world can indeed be explained by people trying to support insanely large families on marginal land all because they’re too stupid or lazy to tell their local corrupt and backward clergy, bureaucrats and politicians where to go. Bottom line. Why should I have any sympathy for those who won’t help themselves? Marxism is a slave philosophy.

    As for what the developed world is doing to the world, I think you’re under-estimating people here, and you might want to look into certain aspects of movements like permaculture. Yes, in the short term, there might be some sort of collapse of a food chain/global warming/insert environmental horror story, but at the end of the day, people aren’t stupid. People adapt for survival. That’s why humans are pretty well the only species to be able to live almost anywhere on the planet. If condition X reaches the point of catastrophe, people will develop a response to that in order to survive. They’ll alter their behaviour or develop better technology or something else for survival, even if lots of them die off in the process — at the end of the day though, nature is full of equilibria and maybe we’re currently living above ours. The world is not going to come to an end because of us. I seriously doubt humanity will come to an end because of us either. However, if, ultimately, humans are too stupid and they end up making themselves extinct, then they probably deserve it. Ultimately, the planet existed without us before (and if we believe the scientists, we’ve only been around for a brief moment in the scheme of things) and it will continue without us.

    If, for a moment, I accept your premise that humanity is voraciously destroying all in its path via our current model (and there are certainly problems), then surely the only hope is actually via free market capitalism. If we take the example of fossil fuels causing the sky to fall, etc., then realistically, all those people out there aren’t about to just abandon civilisation as they know it. They’re not going to stop driving cars or using electric microwaves run off burning coal. If anything, the developing world wants more of that and they currently have little “eco-consciousness”. The only way forward really is to develop alternative fuel sources that not only meet the demand as it grows, but do so cheaper and have fewer negative flow on effects to convince consumers to move over to such things. At the end of the day, you have to have the best product out there, and that’s as true of environmentalism as anything else.

    Likewise, if food really is an issue, then people will (and have) develop better methods of producing farming and a large part of this will be via ways that protect land as a long term asset (it’s silly to pollute or degrade your land to the point of it being worthless).

    Throughout history such things have largely been done by individuals or small groups motivated by fame or fortune and trying to advance themselves. Helping humanity or the environment are not diametrically opposed to capitalism, but may actually be in the best interests of the individual — the heart of capitalism.

    I just think your outlook is far too narrow.

  36. David said: “I’m not personally sure what the best response is on guns, although I do agree that with a disarmed population revolution becomes a very hard proposition indeed.”

    This is the lunacy of what you are suggesting. Once the USSR became a “revolution betrayed” (to paraphrase Orwell), the fact that the people of Russia (and its satrapies) were disarmed ensured that it would remain a revolution betrayed. It ensured that Lenin, Stalin, Beria and all the other murderous thugs would be able to effect the deaths of tens of millions and those folks would never be able to fight back.

    The key difference between Marxism and the anti-authoritarianism of Eric Raymond (or myself, for that matter) is that we don’t think we know best for anyone else. We want each individual to be free to make their own choices, right or wrong. Marxism, and every other ‘ism I can think of, wants to impose choices on everyone else. Or, as Heinlein put it (paraphrased), there are two kinds of people in the world; those who want to tell others what to do and those who don’t. Which camp are you in?

  37. Neal: Did you not read the “The complexity and communications overhead” part of that sentence? ESR isn’t saying support is free, he’s saying that it doesn’t add to the complexity of the software, or the communications overhead that’s required to develop it.

    However, it also doesn’t cost anything at all for the developers, as long as they don’t set up (or don’t participate in) a -users or a -support list. (Of course, many do. But not all.) Distros seem to provide a lot more support than developers do.

    And you’re taking the comparison too literally. ESR said “even those 5% *of programmers* [...] would be unlikely to suffer”, and programmers don’t do support. Programmers do not fill the same role as mechanics (i.e. providing support for users).

  38. “Neal: Did you not read the “The complexity and communications overhead” part of that sentence? ESR isn’t saying support is free, he’s saying that it doesn’t add to the complexity of the software, or the communications overhead that’s required to develop it.”

    Yes, I read it. I also read the next sentence in the magic cauldron:


    It may increase the rate of silly questions appearing on the project mailing lists, but this is relatively easily forestalled by maintaining a Frequently Asked Questions list and blithely ignoring questioners who have obviously not read it (and in fact both these practices are typical).

    Sounds like support to me. User can’t do something, they post a message to the message board and get an answer. That’s the whole tenet of open source isn’t it? That all these eyes and users will find the bugs. Furthermore, I use all kinds of tools and almost never need support of any kind (except with open source, though I suspect that is that nature of what I use it for). I have never paid for support for any product I’ve used, but I and companies I have worked for have spent quite a bit of money on MS word licenses.

    ” even those 5% *of programmers*”

    The 5% number doesn’t pass the sniff test. Pure software companies alone have a market cap of $480B. A twenty times number over this yields close to 10Trilllion dollars in market cap for the other 19, if there is the same value for the so called “non sale” engineers. 10 Trillion isn’t believable, so either the value add of for use software is much lower than an engineer tied to sale of products, or the 19/20 is wrong. The paper attempts to depreciate the value of for sale software, saying it is a broken model, so I would argue that if the market cap commands such a high premium over other models, it is probably a good and right one. On the other hand, if there are vastly fewer than 19 in 20 programmers doing “for use” software, the paper is also incorrect, though perhaps in a smaller way.

    I would also add such developers as VHDL and Verilog as for sale engineers, and would also be tempted to add those who develop services such as google, yahoo, and amazon. While it isn’t software directly that is being sold, the software is what adds (most of) the value. Regardless of whether you add in the services folks or not, the for sale software group is in the Trillions of dollars when you include vhcl and verilog, so the 19/20 still makes no sense.

    The services group is another great example of how the notion of open source falls down. The value of google is not in apache, everyone has it. It is in the stuff they build on top. Imagine google giving away their software. While the network effects would keep them going for quite a while, there is no way they would do it. And if memory serves correctly, Amazons one click patent caused major outcries too, but amazon did not yield, which makes it seem as if they at least attribute significant value to the patent, and by extention the software that implements it. This is another example of how the paper is off base with its ideas.

  39. Eric,
    Your completely right. Those pseudo revolutionaries have not brains left to believe what history has SHOWN us: Wherever marxism thriumped in the past was only to OPPRESS the people whom they suppossed they fought for. Let us look what was left of the USSR a corrupt society where the growing capitalism now is on benefit or the relatives of the nomeklatur. China with their so called OPENNESS have made rich mostly to people related to the party. The only way that these idiots are pursuing their ideology is to have a better place than the rest of the poeople without free competition for them and their relatives when their suppossedly classless state comes to pass. It’s unbelieavable that these people still believe in these ideas. It’s time to switch from opium to pot to be closer to reality. Down with authoritatian societies and monopolies that support them.

    Eddie

  40. *LOL*

    I’m so sorry for you, Eric, to have to cope with this. It’s hilarious in a sort of sad way, to see that marxists is still as dumb to day as they were before. I’m not surprised that you’re being called all kind of ‘evil’ stuff, but that’s our task in life. I’m apparently nazi friendly, reactionary and a big racist, and fond of anarchy (I don’t know how that fits together) and a soft and cynical person at the same time. It’s really hard to be a libertarian ;)

    I dislike most of the US policy inside USA, but I support the war in Iraq of one major reason. Dictaturship has no right to exists.

  41. Eric,

    I have no context about that minor SF writer, but I do know that over here in Europe someone is usually considered “right” if they are pro arms. Look at all the well known people supporting the NRA, and then look at all the people pro guns control in your country.
    That’s how most people see it from this side of the pond.

  42. “I have read the communist manifesto and the economic manuscripts, part of the capital, and have the culture to know that Kant -> Fichte -> Hegel -> Feuerbach -> Marx/Engles”

    Glad he has “culture” ’cause it sure is knowledge/wisdom. Some of these loser should spend as much time and effort on our Founding Father’s thoughts and philosophies and our country’s history – the most uplifting govt/society in history. Every Communist/Socialist/Marixist state has failed or is well on its way to failing. These govts also oppress people, they give them no sense of hope or of better times. They get what the govt gives them and that is it. Look at third-world countries, oppressive govts keep the people that way. In free markets people fail from dependance on the government (= lazy) instead of themselves. I have known many people who have gone from dirt poor to filthy rich and did it due to an idea and a free market. They didn’t tell themselves they couldn’t and for the most part govt stay out of their way. Maybe if some people got off their lazy asses and tried to do for themselves they also could realize the riches this country has to offer. Too many people are just too damned lazy.

  43. Eric Cowperthwaite,

    You say that I believe I know better than everyone else, and that i’m in favour of authority. The truth is, when it comes to market outcomes that will have an effect in my life, I do believe I have the right to input information. Market transactions are insufficient to reflect all stakeholders’ positions, and this is why I support a more plan-based system.

    Peter,

    European thinkers of the level I referred to are orders of magnitude in sophistication and insight higher than the US founding fathers, who were mostly launching from a very simple-minded Locke/Hume theory of knowledge, a very simple-minded (Hobbes) political philosophy and so on. The fact that they knew how to phrase things in a way that could sound well after the validity of their underlying ideas was proven tenuous points us towards the conclusion that they were more rhetoricians than philosophers.

  44. David: The point to a free market system is that people have freedom of choice. As such, every stakeholder’s position is reflected if he or she is smart enough and motivated enough for that to happen. I don’t have any sympathy for people who bitch and moan about how “the system” is unfair whilst doing nothing at all to help themselves. Money may or may not be a major motivator; however, the same can be said for a whole range of other values. This is why communities such as the Amish or Orthodox Jews, right through to people selling organic lentils at environmentalist collectives are able to have their little communities, with various degrees of integration into, and acceptance of, mainstream culture (whatever that is). There are always trade-offs of course, and it may be that Kosher food or organic food is more expensive, but that’s the choice of following a particular ideology. Never-the-less, such choices do exist under the free market much more readily than under other systems which are very much about a “one size fits all” policy that often doesn’t fit great swathes of the populace (nor should it).

    As for the U.S. Founding Fathers, I don’t think their ideas were lacking in a magnitude of sophistication or insight, nor that they were simple-minded. Just because something isn’t complex, convoluted and often specious, if not quite disingenuous, doesn’t mean it isn’t right. I think these guys had a very deep understanding of human nature, especially as it pertained to power.

  45. Caleb,

    On the free market: essentially, market works on a cybernetic basis with a feedback-control mechanism: demand and supply. Price is utilized as the signaling that communicates information to buyers and sellers. What I’m saying is this approach is insufficient, and I have seen no proof that it can be made sufficient, because of several reasons, of which I will cite two, which are not all I could think of but the most important for me:
    Reason the first: the ability for a stakeholder to make a change in the system is limited by its bargaining position (either its buying power or its supply of goods) which is not proportional to the importance of the input involved. To simplify, if I have to freeze so your dog can have warm clothes, I consider this a failure of the economic system.
    Reason the second: externalities. This mechanism discards all information which is not possible or difficult to define in terms of price signaling. Environmental damage, benefits of an educated populous and other goods/bads that outright free market deals with poorly come to mind.

  46. When your perspective is from the far left, everybody else looks way off to the right.

    (Not that I agree with the left/right scale–I’m a Nolan Chart type all the way–but this is one of those cases when beliefs are more important than reality.)

  47. David: Regarding the first: people always have a bargaining position, it’s just that many choose to fritter it away by not working hard, by subscribing to primitive or backward belief systems, by letting others (eg. governments and other tyrants) take it away from them, and by not supporting their immediate families and communities. The fact that Chinese communities everywhere arrive in a country with nothing, not even the ability to speak the local language, and with a little ingenuity and hard work, manage to rise above the lazy and stupid locals within a generation is evidence of this. At least in the first world, being poor is not an affliction, it’s a lifestyle choice, and in the third world, it’s a case of throwing off the yoke of dictators and arse backwards religions (tautology I know) and belief in nonsense like Marxism (tautology again, I know).

    Regarding the second: if it discards such information then that’s the result of the people making the analysis or analyses being extremely short-sighted. A farmer who poisons his land for short-term benefit is stupid for destroying his own long-term livelihood. The market will eventually reflect all of these things you suggest. Under the scenario of environmental damage, for instance, those who make their land unproductive will be punished in the long run, and those who use sensible resource management will be rewarded. Likewise, as the price of a product goes up as a result of the decrease in supply, people will begin to look at ways to counter-act said environmental damage in order to make the land productive (and profitable) once more. Having done that, they’ll hardly be likely to damage the land again.

    Having said all this, it’s quite often governments that are the worst to blame in terms of environmental damage because at the end of the day, politicians and bureaucrats in power now have absolutely no vested interest in looking after the land so it will be in good condition in one or two generations’ time (since in this country at least, they’ll be getting their Parliamentary pensions regardless), whereas a farmer or anyone else who intends to pass his land on to his children has a very strong vested interest in maintaining the quality of it.

  48. Caleb: You don’t know what an externality is, do you? A farmer valuing short-term over long-term by poisoning his land is not an example of an externality. A group of fishermen overfishing a certain spot due to having to compete with the other fishermen is an example of an externality. Its a “tragedy of the commons” thing. When a product or service in a free market comes with costs or benefits that by nature are shared among the entire community whether they want them or not (ex. overfishing, public roads, etc.), that is a product with an externality.

  49. Caleb says: At least in the first world, being poor is not an affliction, it’s a lifestyle choice, and in the third world, it’s a case of throwing off the yoke of [various].

    If it were all so easy, nobody would be poor. How does any ordinary individual simply “throw off the yoke of a dictator”? And do you really imagine that there is no element of luck, parentage, circumstance and innate ability in one’s income? Astonishing.

    Caleb says: The market will eventually reflect all of these things you suggest….

    Eventually, probably so. There is no reason that this will happen in sufficient time.

    Caleb says: Under the scenario of environmental damage, for instance, those who make their land unproductive will be punished in the long run…

    But much of the environmental damage is not visited upon the perpetrators – that’s the whole problem with the market approach. It may not even be visited upon people in the same country (acid rain etc) or on people in the same generation, for long-term effects. The pure market reacts, but too slowly, too little, always lagging behind.

  50. “SF”… do you mean “Science Fiction” or “San Francisco”?

    or something else?

  51. David:

    “If it were all so easy, nobody would be poor. How does any ordinary individual simply “throw off the yoke of a dictator”? And do you really imagine that there is no element of luck, parentage, circumstance and innate ability in one’s income? Astonishing.”

    I’m not saying that everyone could or would necessarily do it and I don’t believe it’s easy. As Nietzsche said, “man was not created equal.” However, there’s something to be said for the Anglo-Saxon tradition and the fact that generally, it’s produced fairly stable, free and productive societies. How would I go about throwing off a yoke? First adopt 18th century philosophical principles, then hold a tea party… Of course there is luck in life, but the effects of luck are greatly mitigated by the belief systems one subscribes to. It’s just making excuses not to criticise much of the third world for its backwards religious beliefs for example.

    “Eventually, probably so. There is no reason that this will happen in sufficient time.”

    The market moves remarkably fast to most things.

    “But much of the environmental damage is not visited upon the perpetrators – that’s the whole problem with the market approach. It may not even be visited upon people in the same country (acid rain etc) or on people in the same generation, for long-term effects. The pure market reacts, but too slowly, too little, always lagging behind.”

    No, again, you’re trying to absolve the wrong people of responsibility. There may indeed be many perpetrators of environmental damage who are truly nefarious. I don’t doubt that and I’m not an apologist for trans-national corporations. However, where do the primary producers and the consumers come into this? If farmers in the third world want to rape their own land for short term profit or if third world countries want to clear fell all their forests for short term profit, then they have themselves to blame. There are pathways to sustainable agriculture and other primary resource management. It’s just that they require a little thought and a strong will, rather than killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Again, it’s just more apologetic nonsense.

    Likewise with consumers. A huge number of environmental issues would be non-issues if people put their money where their mouths were. A lot of people in the west would get upset if some of these things happened in their own backyard, yet don’t consider what happens in someone else’s backyard. You can’t simply pass the buck like that.

    In both cases, it’s part of the myth that only the rich white guy can be a bad guy. No one else has to take any responsibility for his or her own actions and their short or long term consequences. No, instead, we’ll bring out that sacred scapegoat of the free market, globalisation and multi-national corporations and flog those to death instead.

    As long as people keep making such excuses, rather than looking critically at themselves and those immediately around them, the market may indeed produce the problems you describe. However, the market itself simply is neither good nor bad. It’s not a moral entity. What are moral entities are human beings. They make mistakes of course, despite the best of intentions. However, ultimately, you either believe that people are responsible and capable enough of sorting out any difficulties and adjusting behaviour if necessary (which is an argument for libertarianism), or you believe that they’re not, which would be an argument for an enlightened despot or some other form of totalitarian rule.

  52. Montag: Under a true free market system, the sorts of commons you described wouldn’t be commons. The whole reason there is a tragedy of the commons is because no one owns them and so no one ultimately bears the responsibility for them. The buck can always be passed. To put it another way, because everyone owns them, everyone is trying to get more out of them than the next guy, so the competitive race can always be blamed rather than individual actions. Dividing up the sea for farming with boundaries could be the same as dividing up the land for farming with boundaries, and as such, the mismanagement of resources would come back to haunt the individual owners. Likewise, if anyone then tried to steal fish from your territory, you’d be perfectly entitled to shoot him or scuttle his boat (or gather a posse to do so).

    Likewise, if roads were privately owned and fees were charged to use them they could be properly managed. If the owner of the roads is despotic in the way he runs them and charges for their use, then everything from socially ostracising him to simply refusing to trade with him is likely to bring him into line. The objection, of course, is that the owner of the roads may be removed from these effects by not being integrated into the local community. To that I would add that anyone who allows himself to be ruled by a distant force, be it government, church or corporation, is an idiot. People who complain about their national governments but who can’t or won’t even organise the most basic level of civil meeting in their local communities are fools and deserve all they get. I’m envisioning a world of quite de-centralised power here, but I honestly believe that’s the only way to go. That does, however, require a really high level of personal responsibility for the course of your own life.

    I think the only real commons then are things like the air, rain, water table and water ways, etc. that can and do move between territories. As such, once again, if someone is doing something to screw up your livelihood or health (eg. polluting), then that could be considered an attack on you. As such, you’re perfectly entitled to go and shoot the bastard.

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