We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Soft in the head

I must confess that I don’t know much about software. I know that it is logical instruction stuff that enables me to do interesting things with my computer and that it is made up of bits, bytes, bobs, bangles, beads and a couple of egg-whites. I also know that it is fabricated by frightfully whizz-bang clever chaps who possess powers far beyond my ken.

I did not know, though, that they were the footsoldiers fighting to bring down Capitalism but, according to Mr. Soderberg, that is exactly what they are.

A word of warning before you open the linked article (if, indeed, that is what you are minded to do): it is a ponderously long and narcolepsy-inducing marxist tract of the kind that I seldom can be bothered to wade through any more but for the inclusion of this early caveat:

“The article address readers sympathetic to the Marxist project and it presumes a basic knowledge of Marxist terminology”

Clearly, it was not meant for the flinty-eyes of a Mammon-Worshipper such as me. It is a sort of shrunken-head-on-a-stick warning that all ye who venture beyond this point risk mortal peril. Well, how could I resist? That’s not a warning, it’s a challenge.

Disappointingly, though, there was no peril, mortal or otherwise and negligible challenge. The thrust of the whole piece is that there are a whole slew of software designers out there beavering away designing excellent software which they then give away for free, thus undermining the corporations who exploit their capitalist intellectual property rights to charge for their (allegedly) inferior products. According to Mr. Soderberg, this heralds the dawn of a new age when the principle of giving away one’s software products for free will be applied to all other products and thus bring about a gift-based society.

All very tedious and all very wrong. As usual when these flat-earthers pop their heads over the parapet, the article is not so much an analysis as an extensive extrapolation of wishful thinking and deeply erroneous assumptions. All Marxists tend to get throbbingly priapic at the thought of folks giving their labour and ideas away for free. For them, it is a validation of their absurd insistence that everyone must give away their labour and ideas for free whereas, truly, it is an example of the kind of voluntarism that lies at the heart of the libertarian view of capitalism.

In other words, if said designers (or collectives thereof) decide to labour for no return then that is tickety-boo by me. And if others decide to that they want a return for their labour that is also tickety-boo. They will only get that return if they produce software that pikers like me are prepared to pay for. In other words, they have to compete and whether they do so successfully is entirely a matter for them.

However the corporations that Mr.Soderberg so dislikes must be churning out some good software because if they were not, they would go bust and in quick time. But that point seems to have been lost on him. Not surprising when you see assertions like this:

“Quite to the contrary, the study supports a connection between general welfare systems and commitment to non-commercial projects”

Now, correct me if I am wrong, but there aren’t a whole lot of magnificent software programmes emerging from, say, Cuba are there?

Mistake compounds mistake as Mr. Soderberg unmasks his vision of a society changed into a gift-society by the act of giving away the software while wholly ignoring the products of capitalism that enable the volunteer designers to do what they do. Nobody is giving away computers for free, or desks or chairs or Kangol hats or pizza or Diet Coke. If Mr. Soderberg wants to excite himself over free information and ideas then let him look no further than this blog and its copious links: loads and loads of folks giving away their intellectual product for free. Does this mean we are all Marxists? Not in my reckoning.

Like all unreconstructed lefties, Mr. Soderberg believes that capitalism insists on the pursuit of profit. Capitalism neither insists nor requires any such thing. It merely requires the voluntary exchange of goods and services upon whatever terms contracting parties agree. People labouring for free is not marxism; people being forced to labour for free is marxism. It is a very easy distinction to grasp and you certainly don’t have to be a software designer to do so.

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