Fri 06 Oct 2017 10:41:44 AM -03


While Raymond has innumerous insights on the dynamic of the free software communities, he got political economy wrong, including, but not only by:

  • Choosing to focus on Lockean philosophical considerations.
  • Putting altruism as a mode of appearance for an egotistical reward strategy.

Reading this book years after the "Open Source Revolution" has begun, the whole "Open Source X Free Software" debate looks even more important than what sometimes were put as a metaphysical, esoteric dispute. Going beyond the requirement that a software work is made available giving the "four freedoms", this debate puts basic questions about the underlying production process all how societies chose to divide labour and share wealth.

More than ever before this debate has huge importance and implications, given our current state of affairs where economic models such as "freemium", "opencore" and siren servers are privatizing and concentrating the notion of property, i.e, transforming even personal property in a "service": you don't own your gadget or content like music you purchase, because of DRM, EULAS and the inability to repair your stuff, see the iRepair movement.

Raymond assumes that "the verdict of history seems to be free-market capitalism is the globally optimal way to cooperate for economic efficiency" which, besides being an "end of history"-type fallacy -- as we didn't tried yet many, many possible economical systems, but only very few --, has wrong assumptions about what is "optimal", "cooperation" and "efficient": just look about resource depletion, absurd wealth concentration by the extremely rich and lack of basic dignity for most of human population, not to mention animal/nature rights.

Capitalism is based in the need that something is scarce, if not naturally then let make it artificial scarce. So there's no way a capitalist business will sustain itself by giving everything free as in software -- as it's anyway out of question that it will give anything free as in beer.

So while the bulk of Raymond ideas are revolutionary in the sense that capitalism needs to constantly revolutionize itself, fade away in diminishing returns or go to war mode -- when accumulated production is fanatically destroyed, it does not offers insights for the main issue of how to replace capitalism which by the previous definition is inequality-producing machine.

Embracing open source as a capitalism moto sounds like being a hacker until page two, which is a prevailing ideology of the Silicon Valley elite, which sounds much more a meritocracy than hacker culture. We should question things instead of taking assumptions for granted.

That's curious, because Raymond cites Buckminster's Fuller "ephemeralization" concept in the opening words of his "The Magic Cauldron" essay, which could be explored to a new dimension if economics and politics are understood also as technological apparatus we use to live better. An ephemeralization, as Raymond explains, is "technology becoming both more effective and less expensive as the physical resources invested in early designs are replaced by more and more information content" (page 115).

So it's clear when Raymond makes assumptions he is actually making a choice on capitalist markets and conservative politics (I don't like to use the term libertarian: it causes confusions as it means different things on different cultures).

If we change the assumptions, we can build different, new economies and politics with other different emergent properties, like those based on values of emancipation and solidarity. There are other Magic Cauldrons for the Free Software spell.

Ideas while reading the book

  • Hypothesis: sustainability of "Open Source" economic model in Brazil was mostly embraced by the government, by an army of free lancers and by a small number of business; while open source is widely used in the country, it's mostly on the free rider mode: everyone using an open stack but develops unpublished code (either closed source os lazilly left out of public sight) or "poor gifts" in the expression of Raymond himself.


  • Linus Law: "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow" (page 30); "debugging is parallelizable" (page 32).

  • Delphi Effect: "the averaged opinion of a mass of equally expert (or equally ignorant) observers is quite a bit more reliable a predictor than the opinion of a single randomly chosen observer" (page 31).

  • Brooks Law: "complexity and communication costs of a project rise with the square number of developers" (pages 32, 49).

Freedom and hierarchy

  • Kropotkin is cited at page 52: "principle of understanding" versus the "principle of command".

  • Conservative vision: "The Linux world behaves in many respects like a free market or an ecology, a collection of selfish agents attempting to maximize utility, which in the process produces a self-correcting spontaneous order more elaborate and efficient than any amount of central planning could have achieved." (page 52). Right afterwards he negates the existence of true altruism.


A very liberal point of view:

  • Homesteading the Noosphere: "customs that regulate the ownership and control of open-source software [...] imply an underlying theory of property rights homologous to the Lockean theory of land tenure" (65).

  • Open Source as a gift economy like a reputation game (81 - 83):

    Most ways humans have of organizing are adaptations to scarcity and want. Each way carries with it different ways of gaining social status.

    The simples way is the command hierarchy [where] scarce goods are allocated by onde central authority and backed up by force. Command hierarchies scale very poorly; they become increasingly inefficient as they get larger.


    Our society is predominantly an exchange economy. This is a sofisticated adaptation to scarcity that, unlike the command model, scales quite well. Allocation of scarce goods is done in a decentralized way through trade and voluntary coopreation.


    Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance. They arise in populations that do not have significant material scarcity problems with survival goods.


    Abundance makes command relationships difficult to sustain and exchange relationships an almost pointless game. In gift cultures, social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.

    -- 80-81

He also explains that the reputation game is not the only drive in the bazaar-style ecosystem: satisfaction, love, the "joy of craftsmanship" are also motivations for software development (pages 82-83), which is compatible with the gift economy model:

How can one maximize quality if there is no metric for quality?
If scarcity economics doesn't operate, what metrics are available
besides peer evaluation?

Other respondents related peer-esteem rewards and the joy of hacking
to the levels above subsistence needs in Abraham Maslow's well-known
'hierachy of values' model of human motivation.

-- 82-83

Cites both Ayn Rand and Nietzsche at page 88 when talking about "selfless" motives, besides their "whatever other failings", saying that both are "desconstructing" 'altruism' into unacknowledged kinds of self-interest.

The value of humility

Furthermore, past bugs are not automatically held against a developer; the fact
that a bug has been fixed is generally considered more importante than the fact
that one used to be there. As one respontend observed, one can gain status by
fixing 'Emacs bugs', but not by fixing 'Richard Stallman's bugs' -- and it
would be considered extremely bad form to criticie Stallman for _old_ Emacs
bugs that have since been fixed.

This makes an interesting contrast with many parts of academia, in which
trashing putatively defective work by others is an important mode of gaining
reputation. In the hacker culture, such behavior is rather heavily tabooed --
so heavily, in fact, that the absence of such behavior did no present itself to
me as a datum until that one respondent with an unusual perdpective pointed it
out nearly a full year after this essay was first published!

The taboo against attacks on competence (not shared with academia) is even more
revealing than the (shared) taboo on posturing, because we can relate it to a
difference between academia and hackerdom in their communications and support

The hacker culture's medium of gifting is intangible, its communications
channels are poor at expressing emotional nuance, and face-to-face contact
among its members is the exception rather than the rule. This gives it a lower
tolerance of noise than most other gift cultures, and goes a long way to
explain both the taboo against posturing and the taboo against attacks on
competence. Any significant incidence of flames over hackers' competence would
intolerably disrupt the culture's reputation scoreboard.

-- 90-91

What about Linus behavior, then?

The same vulnerability to noise explains the model of public humility required
of the hacker community's tribal elders. They must be seen to be free of boast
and posturing so the taboo against dangerous noise will hold.

Talking softly is also functional if one aspires to be a maintainer of a
successful project; one must convince the community that one has good
judgement, because most of the maintainer's job is going to be judging other
people's code. Who would be inclined to contribute work to someone who clearly
can't judge the quality of their own code, or whose behavior suggests they will
attempt to unfairly hog the reputation return from the project? Potential
contributors want project leaders with enough humility and class to be able to
to say, when objectively appropriate, ``Yes, that does work better than my
version, I'll use it''—and to give credit where credit is due.

-- 91