Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stallman has some attitude

In The GNU Manifesto, Stallman writes that “extracting money from users of a program by restricting their use of it is destructive because the restrictions reduce the amount and the ways that the program can be used.” Here, Stallman has unhelpfully reworded the Law of Demand in sensational terms. Of course charging a price for something means that fewer people will use it, but this is how our economy functions. It seems that Stallman is unhappy having to pay for anything, and would prefer to live in a society where everyone works hard for everyone else without quantified incentives. Perhaps with software, it is particularly realistic to expect that we might actually move in this direction. If so, then the GNU Manifesto is really just a practical case of a much larger manifesto against capitalism in general.

The examples of free labor we have discussed so far seem largely to be fundamentally secondary activities. We may labor for YouTube by posting content to their website, but one could not pursue YouTube posting as a full-time job. It seems that producing free software must also remain secondary to the business of proprietary software. If the software industry were entirely open source, I would expect that there would be many fewer professional programmers. And if GNU is destined to remain secondary to proprietary programming, then I don’t see why Stallman must make the relationship between open source and proprietary software sound so antagonistic.

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