Subject: Re: advice sought
From: Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com>
Date: 31 Jul 2002 11:27:11 -0700

Tom Lord <lord@regexps.com> writes:

> I tend to think that 
> 
> 	a) the expenses and responsibility associated with programming
> 	   are pretty high -- so wages should be too.  *NOT* that 
> 	   this means "Oh, I deserve a lot more than that pipe-fitter
> 	   guy", just that it means my cash flow has to be able to
> 	   handle stupid incidentals like, oh, oops -- my monitor just
> 	   died, better whip out $800 bucks this afternoon.

That's not the way our society works, though.  In our society, pay is
based on activities which other people value, not on the costs
associated with those activities.  You know that.

This country is full of extremely talented people who don't cover
their costs using their talents.  Artists are the most obvious case,
including writers, but it's also true for academics, for basketball
players who are one of the 1000 best in the country but not one of the
200 best, and so forth.

The country is also full of people who earn an excellent salary doing
something for which they have no talent at all.  My experience is that
a surprising number of people like this are doing computer programming
jobs.

I don't think these facts are necessarily good, but I do think that
they are hard to change.  You've been trying to change them in the
limited arena of free software programming.  But I think you're
reaching out to the wrong constituency.  Your arguments tend to be
based on highly speculative benefits and unquantifiable costs, and
you're talking to a group of people focused on short-term cash flow.
For this audience, you need to provide a much higher probability of
success, and a much tighter definition of costs.  You're essentially
competing directly against free software contributions, which cost
very little and have a probability of success which appears to be not
much lower.

As others have suggested, you may do better looking for a government
grant.  In this country, the government is charged with making cash
investments for speculative benefits.  The other major group which
does this is research universities.  In certain specific areas, such
as medicine, charities make investments of this sort, but I don't know
of any which work in the computer field, unless you count the FSF.
Some large companies are also prepared to make these investments, but
in return for the investment would expect to own the results.

Or you could try to fix the general problem in areas much larger than
computer programming, which means starting a social movement.  You may
want to consider this slogan which characterizes a desirable society:
``from each according to his ability, to each according to his
needs.''

> 	b) if your profession involves a substantial cash flow, it's
> 	   good practice (for oh so many reasons) to spread it around
> 	   as much as possible, short of screwing yourself or your
> 	   professional duties.  If nothing else, this is a
> 	   semi-democratic way to fix markets that aren't quite
> 	   functioning in the way one might like.

Ah, well, I think the market in my profession is working just fine.
I'm grossly overpaid compared to people who do work which I think has
more intrinsic value (e.g., teachers, nurses, nannies, research
professors, social activists) (and, no, I don't confuse my notions of
intrinsic value with market value, just as I hope that nobody is
confused enough to think that market value is the same as intrinsic
value).  And even at my pay scale I still have time to read mailing
lists and do some free software work.  When I spread money around, I
sure as heck don't give it to people in my profession.

Ian