Subject: Re: slavery and freedom
From: "Ben Tilly" <>
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2008 14:53:28 -0700

On Wed, Sep 3, 2008 at 1:50 PM, Thomas Lord <> wrote:
> Ben and Chris (Tilly and DiBona) are committing a logical fallacy.

I have worked hard to keep this reply civil.  It has been harder than
it should be...

> Ben offers an anecdotal "attitudinal survey" of the Perl community
> and Chris offers a sociological attitudinal survey of open source
> volunteers.
> Both report a large degree of contentment among volunteers.

We reported several other things as well which are more important.
Specifically we both provided evidence that your sociological theory
about the dynamics of open source communities is based on a series of
wrong assumptions.

> Both use these observations to argue that volunteers are not being
> exploited.
> The fallacy is that attitude, no matter how accurately measured,
> has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not the subject is being
> exploited.

Where do I start?

A good place is your exploitation theory.

Your theory is based on very specific assertions about volunteer
effort.  You said that we have large numbers of people volunteering
their time in the hope of receiving one of a small number of jobs to
be had doing open source software full time.  Companies then use this
work without compensating the volunteers, and knowing that they never
intend to compensate them.  And this constitutes the exploitation you

Is that a fair summary?

Both Chris and I provided specific evidence that many of these
assertions are wrong.  You are wrong on the motivations of the
volunteers.  You are wrong on the desirability of those "superstar"
jobs.  You are wrong on the compensation that volunteers seek.  And,
very importantly, you are wrong on the question of whether
compensation is received.

Speaking personally, I have never been paid for any open source work.
(Though I was once offered one of those "superstar jobs" you are
talking about.  I turned it down.  It had too much travel.)  According
to you, then, I am a perfect example of an exploited volunteer.

But when I first got involved in open source I made perhaps a third of
what I do now.  I was not exactly poorly compensated then (I was
significantly above the median wage), I just happen to be more nicely
compensated now.  Now some of the improvement in my compensation is
due to the fact that I'm older and we tend to make more as we have
experience.  Some of my compensation is due to native ability.  But I
credit a lot of my salary improvement to things that I learned from
working with open source communities, and the reputation I gained

If we attribute, say, $30,000/year of my salary over the last 5 years
to skills gained from open source work, I have been indirectly
compensated $150,000 for doing something I enjoyed.  But it gets
better yet.  If we apply a discount rate of 5%/year to the indefinite
future, then the present value of that skillset is $600,000.  Despite
my not having received direct pay, I can reasonably consider myself
nicely compensated.

Let me review that.  I did something I enjoyed.  I expected a specific
form of compensation.  I received that compensation.  And the
financial value of that compensation has been quite respectable.  This
is not what exactly what most people mean by "exploitation".

> Consider the "battered spouse syndrome":  victims of exploitation
> *often* express attitudes of contentment with or preference for
> their situation.   We recognize, anyway, that they are indeed
> exploited, regardless of their attitude.

Do you have *ANY* idea how offensive this comparison is to anyone who
has any familiarity and/or experience with battering or abuse?  Please
plead ignorance and stupidity here.  Please.

> The attitudinal surveys are irrelevant to the questions at hand.

To the contrary, they are very relevant.  And they are relevant
because they show that your theory rests on a series of mistaken
beliefs on your side.

Your argument is much like saying that a university is ripping off its
students because it takes their money and only gives them a cheap
piece of paper that has no direct monetary value.  In fact the
university is not ripping off its students because they expected that
result, and further know that the piece of paper potentially has a
tremendous indirect monetary value.  Of course it is up to the
graduate to recognize that value.  Not all do.  But if you don't
receive full value from your education, the university should
generally not be blamed.