Subject: Re: Value returned from free(d) software
From: Bob Weiner <weiner@wave.altrasoft.com>
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 1997 17:01:12 -0800

>>>>> "BB" == Brian Bartholomew <bb@wv.com> writes:

   BB> Here's my favorite example.  Suppose aliens landed tomorrow and handed
   BB> us a Star Trek food duplicator.  This would copy objects like digital
   BB> copies work today: perfect copies and nearly free.  Would we say,
   BB> "sorry, take it away, it will break our economy", or would we use it
   BB> to eliminate world hunger?

[This is not my view of what should take place from a moral perspective, just
 what I think would happen.]

There would be no one asking nicely for removal of the food duplicator.
There would be massive political and economic movements to destroy it or
make its use a crime.  These would come from Congresspeople inundated by the
farm lobbies, large food product multi-nationals and others at the high
end of the food-production `economic food chain'.

Compare the situation to that of tobacco where the detriment in both health
and lost productivity from the farming and the sale of tobacco products are
widely known, but the business is so profitable and the lobby so strong that
they dominate over the morally driven (at least in part) goal of protecting
the public health.

Modern economies are built on uniform currency systems.  Corporations 
are established in part to remove liability from individuals and permit
large groups of people to make decisions less on moral terms and more
on economic ones.  This is why people use terms like `fiduciary
responsibilities' much more than `moral imperative' in business.

Part of human nature, undoubtedly wrapped up in a survival instinct,
seems to be to react more strongly in critical situations than in regular,
everyday life.  Scarcity tends to create these critical situations that
drive people to act.  Remove the scarcity and both the attention-level and
economic input associated with a resource often drop precipitously.  You
would have to first change human nature, then change the educational and
rewards systems (which reinforce the `fire fighting mentality') and then you
could go after an economic system in which scarcity played little or no role.
I would think this would be centuries if not millenia worth of effort.
Unlike some Internet companies, we at Altrasoft intend to make money sooner
than that while also doing some good for the world :-)

Bob