Subject: Re: Exploring the limits of free software: Cygnus, and GPL
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 12:35:38 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Jean" == Jean Camp <> writes:

    [Jean> Steve writes:]

    >> _As the owner of that code_, I would be satisfied with my
    >> compromise, because it maximizes social contribution.

    Jean> This does not follow without the following aside. Unless we
    Jean> are all working tirelessly only for the social good, for the
    Jean> people, waiting for the state to wither. I believe all
    Jean> experiments based on just this ideal have failed, excluding
    Jean> China, which is in slow failure mode.

No, no, no.  I'm talking only about me and my assessment of the social
good in the context of theoretical possibility.  The rest of you can
be as profit-oriented as you like.

    Jean> Yet in your own backwards retro silly way you have

Tut, tut.

    Jean> identified the core economic problem: software may be a
    Jean> public good.  The economist's was of saying, "Gee this fails
    Jean> in our model."

You took your last economics course from Thomas Aquinas, I would guess.

    Jean> If software is purely a public good the only problem is how
    Jean> to pay for it.

You've likely missed everything since 1960, when Hurwicz published
his seminal article on realization mechanisms, and certainly
everything since 1972, when he did it again with implementation.

    Jean> And this is the interesting question wrt Cygnus: how much
    Jean> value can they extract, how much do they need to put back in
    Jean> to be sustainable?

You're missing the point of public goods.  The extractable value is
inexhaustible, the investment required to generate unbounded value is

The real problem is elsewhere, viz, mechanism design, getting people
who do _not_ have your best interests at heart to do nice things for
you anyway.  (Here Stallman is a pragmatic genius.  Copyleft is as
wonderful an economic hack as it is a legal hack.  It forces
economists to take a new look at a certain kind of public good.)

    Jean> Is such a destruction of GNU/Linux inevitable when it
    Jean> becomes bundled or is bundling a necessary element of
    Jean> economic and political survival?  [...]  Answering how could
    Jean> it be done means understanding how could it be prevented.
    Jean> Economics does not have the answer here, I fear.

Have no fear.  It doesn't.  Didn't I just write that it's a research
question?  Didn't you read it while responding to it?

It doesn't _yet_.  But soon.  (Unfortunately for me, smarter folks
than I are becoming interested in this; an economics answer may happen 
sooner than I expect ;-)

(Note: `42' is a singularity in economic theory, and thus economics
cannot provide the whole the answer.  But usefully applicable answers
can be gotten.)

    Jean> Economics would only reward the person who acted to
    Jean> concentrate value without having the predictive power to
    Jean> understand how it would happen.

Wrong.  There is a difference between "economics" and "the economy."
Economics doesn't reward much of anybody; you don't become a
billionaire by being an economist.  Nor is it a sure bet that
concentrators are rewarded; the Soviet Union (the biggest conglomerate 
ever attempted) went bankrupt, AT&T was broken into big pieces, but
littler than they were before---funny thing---the deconcentration made 
it bigger than ever.  Ah, paradoxes are so delightful!

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
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