I have been palling around with Marxists. I know, I shouldn't. I feel like the odd duck... a multi-millionaire, reading modern marxist utopias. The Marxists underground still exists, it is even experiencing a bit of a revival. They feel even emboldened by the current soiled diaper mess western ultra-liberal capitalism has created.
Obviously choosing to be a Marxist economist wasn't a fast pace track to academic success. Truth be told, the main reason I relate, is that they are the only ones modeling banks and modern fiat money in a way that makes any sense to me.
(Main conclusions basically state that interest bearing instruments, a la bonds, are detrimental to a society's economy when said economy is not growing at a brisk pace)
But mostly I think some old Marxist conclusions, such as "Banks are pigs that are detrimental to society", are worth dusting off. They should be revisited in light of the current abuses of ultra-liberalism and the banking disgrace it has engendered, where those that caused the most pain, reap the most rewards. Free markets self-regulations, fairness and other bollocks.
Anyway... enough digressing. I was reading a paper by one of my favorite academics these days, Trond Andresen. You can find the paper on "Utopia/Dystopia" here. Handle with care, modern Marxist utopias are not for the faint of heart and mostly take root in science fiction ... The relevant passages to the OSS topic are
Another objection is “why should people at all work in/with factories and manufacturing plants when they instead can do all this more meaningful and/or entertaining stuff?” The answer to this is twofold:
• A minority of people is deeply fascinated by tinkering with technical processes, and gradually making them run even better. And they are not very interested in interacting with people as the central point of their job.
• Pride: The select few that control the utopia’s manufacturing plants and process industry are the persons enabling society as a whole to enjoy its very high living standard. They know it, and the others know it too
These factors have been already identified as driving forces behind Open Source. Open Source is done by geeks fascinated with infrastructure and plumbing. Yes, I did take pleasure in solving complex problems. There is a certain pride in being a alpha dog amongst alpha dogs. I always got off on that. Most of you also do. This need to create, even for free, for the sake of creating or showing off will always remain, in a monetary society or not. The profit motive isn't always the motive.
A final point in this section about a long-term utopian scenario, is “can we get there gradually”? Ignoring the controversies on the political left about “reform versus revolution”, I will here suggest that a modern market economy may (at least in theory, assuming that persons/parties with the political will for it is in power) be gradually changed in the direction of the utopia, by – among other things – carefully selecting activities that are “ripe” for being made public and cost-free for the users. Such selection can be done based on at least one of the following criteria being fulfilled for the product or service in question:
1. Limitless consumption is no problem, capacity- or environment-wise (example: local phone calls, Internet access). (This is the sole – and therefore unrealistic – premise of Marxian “higher-stage communism”.)
2. Consumption is due to its nature inherently limited or rationed (example: schools, hospitals, funeral services, local public transport but not long-distance travel).
3. Neither, but attitudes have changed, so that people voluntarily abstain from over-consumption of a certain good/service.
Hmmmm, are modern marxists completely underestimated? They have also laid out a clear reason why we were succesful in OSS. It was just a low hanging fruit. Is OSS's success, the clear first sign of a "higher-stage communism"? Afterall, limitless consumption of bits is harmless, production is low cost and work is play as per the first quotes. "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" could definitely sum up how goods move around in the OSS communities: a few produce according to their abilities, the mass consume according to their needs. What may not apply or simply be obvious in industry that are "people intensive" becomes a plain truth in software.
Yet, a part of me shuts down when I realize this is making sense. What is wrong with me? After all, I spent most of my short professional life, making sure we made money at OSS and monetized our success. I still feel passionately that outstanding individuals should get rewarded in OSS, how "Ayn Rand" of me, how so 1990's!. That we would get paid for producing software, that we would market goods in order to make a living and beyond seemed like a foregone conclusion yesterday, it stills seems so today. I have not compromised on that point. And I am obviously very grateful for the luck we have had and in no way would I change what we have done with professional open source for some vague promise of a better tomorrow. I am still a realist at heart?
But are they incompatible belief? Can you be a communist in a monetary society?? In that light, isn't professional open source, a socialist utopia that embraced making money? More on the topic of monetary modern marxism soon.