Archive for 4/6/2003

Open-Source Socialism?

When I first announced ObjectivismOnline, I got an email from a college CS major who warned me against using Open Source software because (a) the leader of the movement is a dirty marxist, and (b) free software in general is anti-profit, and this anti-capitalism. After doing some (very little) research, I indeed found out that Richard Stallman, the founder of GNU is a pretty sick character, who rants against self-interest and capitalism. (Not to be confused with Richard Salsman, who writes great articles.)Understandably then, I had to give a lot of thought to using free software, which is mostly released under the anti-IP GNU GPL license. There are other free software licenses such as the Creative Commons license, which features a dollar sign with an line through it as a logo, and the simple BSD license. (BSD=”Berkeley Software Distribution”) Not all free software is hostile to profits however. ImageMagik, a popular graphics library, starts out with John Galt’s pledge, and simply asks for postcards in exchange for using it.

So is using and making free software consistent with supporting intellectual property and profits?

First, the very concept of a “software license” – whether GNU or commercial, entails the concept of “copyright,” since it restricts what one can or cannot do with software. The GNU cannot simultaneously use copyright law to restrict software rights and oppose copyrights at the same time.

In a similar sense, the GNU is not “free” either – it allows less freedom than commercial software in many ways. Owners of commercial software can dispose of their property in any way they choose, but users of GNU software face strict limitations on commercial usage and redistribution of modified code.

The advantages of open source software have already been covered at length, but I think the widespread usage of open source projects like linux, apache, php, and MySQL in commercial enterprises speaks for itself. For companies, open source projects are especially useful for creating standard platforms that they don’t have to develop on their own, and that their customers don’t feel chained to. From a personal standpoint, working on free software offers opportunities to develop new skills, work with a team on important projects, and show off your abilities. None of this is to say that there’s something wrong with closed software development. Both have their own niche, and I think that one should decide what kind of software to use based on their technical merit.

Statist Economics 101

Check out the latest from Capitalism Magazine: The UN’s Power Path: Restricting Freedom Under the Mantra of "Sustainable Development"

It’s a revealing look at UN’s Sustainable Development program, which is the "best policy model for developing nations" according to my "economic development" professor.

The UN makes no secret of its plans for a world-wide regime that controls every aspect of our lives:

"Nature has an integral set of different values (cultural, spiritual and material) where humans are one strand of nature’s web and all living creatures are considered equal. Therefore the natural way is the right way and human activities should be molded along nature’s rhythms." (UN Biodiversity Treaty)

Echoing the UN, my prof outlined a three-tier socialist approach to economic development: "social equity," "economic prosperity," (in the form of central planning) and "ecological integrity."

There are many other repulsive things I hear in my my class, and since I can’t very well argue with the prof (it’s not worth getting a bad grade over) I write my own rebuttals to them later. During my last class, she explained the principles of trade and the benefits of voluntary exchange, and then went on to say that a policy of unilateral free trade may be bad for developing nations because of (a) less-than ideal market conditions (which somehow make socialism more efficient) (b) rich nations with high tariffs that "steal" from poor ones (so let’s punish domestic consumers for the mistakes of foreign governments) and (b) globalization diminishing government’s control over the economy. Why is the last bad? "Of course [society needs] a central decision maker who’s planning for the economy."

Underlying my professor’s logic against free trade is a common notion among today’s economists: while voluntary trade between individuals is beneficial to the parties involved (otherwise they wouldn’t trade) it is somehow harmful to the mysterious living, breathing entity known as "society." The connection between individuals and society is masked by enough politics and ethereal mathematics to keep an army of bureaucrats busy, but the conclusion is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Inevitably, the rights of the individual are sacrificed for some vague ideal known as the "social good," or in practice, the mooching pockets of a pull peddler.