Subject: Re: Donation models
From: "Benjamin J. Tilly " <>
Date: Thu, 04 Jul 2002 05:06:12 +0800

Simon Cozens <> wrote:
> I have two problems with the open source donation model.
> The first is that open source projects are made from code, and the best
> donation I can give them is not money but code. In the case of Perl, I
> maintain nearly 40 modules, managed the release of the first few
> versions of the Perl 6 interpreter, and have contributed many patches
> and documents to the Perl 5 core. I feel absolutely no guilt at all for
> not giving a single cent to the fundraising drive.

And the time commitment it takes to do this this is...?

My comment about donation did not imply that people should feel obliged
to donate money.  I very specifically said that being able to donate
money somewhere is an easy way for people who have other commitments on
their time.

> If all we did was throw money at a small number of people to get the
> code written for us, there'd be no community to maintain.

Obviously.  However I also think that we got our money's worth from
Damian Conway.

> Second, and far more seriously, donation models reinforce the myth that
> software is important in any meaningful sense of the word. Of course,
> software is relatively important to programmers, but for the vast
> majority of the world, it's pretty meaningless.

For the vast majority of the world, software is pretty meaningless.  I
fully agree.  But software forms part of an economic infrastructure
which is pretty darned important.

> I'm very lucky that I have the opportunity to give reasonable sums of
> money to charity reasonably often. When this happens, I naturally have a
> number of things vying for my donations. Here are a few:
>     * Work with homeless people in my home town.
>     * Care for the elderly mentally ill.
>     * Providing AIDS vaccines for children in Africa.
>     * Digging wells and providing fresh water for villages in Pakistan.
>     * Allowing privileged first-world programmers to sit in front of a
> computer for more hours than they currently do.

Hmm.  I put a lot of energy into my wife.  She does the first two.  She
treats AIDS patients - which is close enough to the third for government
work.  But, alas, she missed perfection because she doesn't do the
fourth, and she positively discourages the last.

Of course she also happens to be a medical resident in a public

My point is not to mock your donation priorities.  It is to establish a
perspective for my statement that my wife's experience says that "pretty
meaningless" things like pagers, personal organizers, and general
software are enabling factors that help the important stuff get done.

(And what she does is generally accepted as "important stuff".)

> Put like that, I hope it is clear that software is not as important as
> the biased eye of a programmer may perceive. Indeed, no matter how much
> of my income I derive from the existence of a given open source project,
> it becomes very difficult for me to fail to take a global view in cases
> like this. The common counterargument that I should donate money to Perl
> because it provides my livelihood makes sense only for those who cannot
> see beyond their own needs.

What about the argument that I wasn't saying what you should or should
not donate money to?  If you feel no inclination to donate to software,
then that is your business.  If other people are so inclined, that is
their business.  Can you separate your feelings about that choice from
the question of what the realistic impact of those kinds of donations
could work out to be?

Furthermore I disagree on your definition of "global".  You are defining
importance according to the immediacy of the crisis addressed.  However
I suspect that your work on improving Unicode support in Perl will have
more of a positive economic impact on the Indian subcontinent than your
cash donations to dig wells and provide fresh water in Pakistan.

> Meanwhile, I know full well that as Perl *is* an open source project,
> it'll continue to be maintained and developed whether or not people are
> paid to do this. This makes it even more difficult for me to help the
> poor white-bread middle-class afflicted.
> So I'm happy to contribute to Perl in my own way, but I'd rather not
> lose my sense of priority.

Then don't.  Set your priorities as you want, I will set mine as I do.

And now for a completely different perspective on what donations are and
why people "should" or "shouldn't" donate.

My view of the world is that donations are the exchange of your
resources (time, money, etc) in return for having things that you want
to happen happen, but which you are not the direct beneficiary of.
People's motivations are their own.

It is therefore perfectly valid to donate to encourage the continuation
of having interesting people write code, write articles, and give
speeches which will be available to the public - a public which you
expect to be part of.

It is similarly reasonable to donate so that people you have never met
and never will will benefit greatly.  If, of course, that is what you
want to have happen.

Arguing that the first is wrong because the second is more generous is
like telling someone that they should move into a worse home and eat
cheaper food so that they can give more to people who need it.  Yes,
is a selfish element to giving away money to something that you will
use for free.  It is also selfish to spend your money on buying things
for yourself.  The best-known philosophy which says that people should
not be selfish is communism.  The best-known philosophy which says that
it is GOOD to allow people some selfishness is capitalism.

Strangely enough, the current consensus is that allowing selfishness to
persist to at least some extent winds up with pretty much everyone
better off.  To what extent is a thorny political question, but most
people agree that allowing at least some capitalism is a Good Thing.

And now that I have defended my right to be selfish in my charity , I am
going to go out, and buy a book to read, and some food to eat.  Animals
will have been killed for my supper and trees felled for my

Aren't I horrible?


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