Subject: Re: Interesting business morality statement
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Mon, 20 Dec 1999 11:32:47 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "rn" == Russell Nelson <> writes:

    rn> writes:
    >> No member of the open source community shall take unfair
    >> advantage of any other member of the open source community.

    rn> Unless they define "fair", it's useless.  Fairness means
    rn> "equality of opportunity" to some people, and "equality of
    rn> outcome" to others.

And both "equality of opportunity" and "equality of outcome" are
controversial to define.  For example, the "strong rational
expectations" school in finance claims that even insider information
is discounted in the market price.  (Ie, insiders are not taking
unfair advantage of their special opportunities!)

Since we all know of cases where insiders made lots of money, it is
interesting to reflect that economists have yet to convincingly reject
this theory.  The reason why the anecdotes are not fully convincing is
that you aren't going to hear about insider trading when they come a
cropper---except when you are a good friend to the insider.  I have
heard a tale or two of woe where the insiders lost everything in a
"sure thing"!  But people don't collect and analyze those stories the
way they do the ones where insiders succeed in taking advantage of
their information.

At the level of stock price data, without using information about what
information insiders had or leaked to their friends, it is impossible
to confirm that inside information has an effect.  (That is, stock
prices move about the same way before and after an "inside information
event"---eg, announcement of a new product or of financial results---
for all such events, there are no identifiable patterns that
demonstrate that this stock was subject to insider manipulation and
that one not.)

And you also have to define the members of the community.  In this
case it seems explicit, but it's not.  In fact, isn't everybody a
member of the open source community, including Bill Gates?  Bill Gates
is allowed to run Linux, GNU, and Emacs if he so desires, and modify
them, and redistribute them, is he not?  If being an eligible user is
not good enough for membership, where do you draw the line?
Presumably one could exclude Linus on the grounds that he has said
that you should use any tool under any license (including PowerPoint
in particular) if it serves your purpose at a price you're willing to
pay.  (I doubt that even rms would go so far, but I've seen him engage
in withering attacks on those who propose such an argument.)

As for equality of outcome, I would argue that NAFTA is overall a good 
thing despite the fact that the dollar value of increased employment
in Mexico is far less than the dollar value of employment lost in the
U.S. (the remaining gains---and in dollar terms I have become
convinced that NAFTA is a net gain---going to consumers and capital,
mostly on the US side of the border).  Ie, IMO small gains to Mexicans 
are "much more equal" than large losses to Americans (due to relative
standards of living and social safety net differences in particular).

In both cases, I expect many to disagree with me, but it's
inappropriate to argue this point here.  My point is that definitions
of equality of opportunity and equality of outcome are indeed
controversial, and I think these examples are sufficient to make that

So really, "Open Source ethics" under that definition just comes down
to the good old Golden Rule.  Ie, the Brian Bartholomew position that
it's not the license as such, but the whole collection of business
practices that defines an FSB.

A good ethical principle, but not a good definition of a special open
source ethics IMHO.

I will say that I think any consideration of ethics in business must
take into account the issue of whether the "invisible hand" is
properly operating or not.  (Caveat: consider the source, I am an
economist by profession.  ;-)  I don't know what that means
operationally, even in general, and particularly not in FSBs.

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