Subject: Re: Here's a-what I'm a-gonna do.
From: "Robert J. Chassell" <bob@gnu.ai.mit.edu>
Date: Tue, 11 Jun 96 10:47:14 -0400

   At 01:52 AM 6/11/96 PDT, John Gilmore wrote:
   >It sometimes takes an essential goodness-of-spirit to work on free
   >software; a belief that the world is at root a good place and that if
   >we all cooperate it will get even better.  When you see an apparent
   >conflict between that and survival fears, my recommendation is to
   >stretch your understanding of the nature of the world, and the nature
   >of survival, if you can, rather than to become meaner (stingier) in
   >spirit.

   That's beautiful, John.  But it's hardly a rational economic argument.

You are right that many economists try to avoid discussing the issues
that John deals with.  But that is not to say it is hardly a rational
economic argument.

You may be most familiar with the typical profit-maximizing,
perfect-competition types of argument in which underlying presumptions
are that information gathering is free, or very cheap, transaction
costs are low, and the future is stochastically predictable.  John's
model does not fit that.

But rational economics is not so limited.

Economics can take into account both uncertainty and whatever people
are actually maximizing.  (In this jargon, uncertainty is not the same
as probability or risk; you can insure against risk, but not
uncertainty.)

John made the argument:

    ... over the long run, if you do good work, you will be
    repaid for it.  The repayment might not come at the time or in the
    coin that you expect.

These are assertions 

  - that you cannot successfully predict the outcomes of your actions,
    and

  - that over all, in this economy, good actions will lead to good
    outcomes.

Both these assertions are arguable.  For example, in a 1950s style
oligopolistic business, it apparently was possible to predict outcomes
fairly well (success lasted to the end of the 1960s).  The claim that
virtue is rewarded is even more dubious.

But John's assertions are not off the wall.  In my experience, the
world is an uncertain place; moreover, outcomes seldom come in the
coin or at the time I expect.  I find it harder to assert that in this
economy that virtue is rewarded, but have met some people for whom
this was true.

In brief, John is saying:

  - In your best judgement, do you figure that the consequences of
    your actions is this economy are uncertain?  

    If yes,

  - In your best judgement, are enough organizations and enough other
    people helpful to those who are helpful in ways that will satisfy
    you if you help the world?  

    If yes, then

  - You best economic strategy is to exhibit `goodness of spirit'.  It
    is a flexible, general, powerful, long term strategy.

As John says, a critical component of the strategy is to communicate
to others who and what you are, i.e., good marketing.

    Robert J. Chassell               bob@gnu.ai.mit.edu
    25 Rattlesnake Mountain Road     bob@rattlesnake.com
    Stockbridge, MA 01262-0693 USA   (413) 298-4725