Subject: Re: Thoughts on free trade and white collar workers
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 02 Feb 2003 11:56:37 -0800

"Benjamin J. Tilly " <> writes:

> This triggered a response from me about why free trade is
> supposed to work, and what relative advantages I see the US
> as continuing to have.  The idea of relative advantages of
> course relates to the nature of competency.  Which brings
> up an idea that I have but don't feel that I have properly
> integrated which relates back to fsb.  And that idea is the
> value and importance of identifying key operating dynamics
> and trust to working with them, rather than trying to
> create a guarantee that things will remain as they are.
> This relates to this list because the success of free
> software depends on trusting initially counter-intuitive
> dynamics to play out.

My first rambling reaction to your note is that, at least in the
software field, the incentives may differ for individuals and
organizations, or at least for organizations whose continued existence
is in doubt.

I agree that an individual programmer will probably benefit by
producing good code and ``relying on the fact that productive people
are valuable.''  The same is true for an organization like a law firm,
or most FSB's, which primarily rely on the competence of their
employees.  It may also be true for a government, or for a very large
organization like IBM.

But is it true for a small company?  If a small company wants to
become a large company, a natural approach is to do something well, to
encourage other people to become dependent on that thing, and to
retain ownership of that thing.  In software this typically implies
some sort of IP.  IP, by definition, implies not permitting other
people around you to perform as well as possible; it implies
restricting them from taking particular actions.

It's clear that there is a tension between the personal interests of
programmers and the interests of their employers (besides the obvious
tensions of the employer/employee relationship).  Programmers will do
better in the long run by becoming stars--people who are known in the
field.  For employers, stars are not good in the long term, because
you have to pay extra to keep them from jumping ship.  It's better to
have very good people who nobody else knows about.

So I think you are describing a scenario more suited for free lancers
and contract programmers, not one of small and medium sized firms.
That may well be where we are headed, with the increasing use of
off-shore development firms.  It's a scenario which should work well
for FSB's, although one which leads to a comfortable income rather
than great wealth.

On a separate note, I expect the US will continue to do fine in
technical innovations.  This is supported by a whole set of
relationships which are generally not found together in other
countries: high investor wealth looking for high-reward opportunities;
great ease of starting new companies, and dissolving failed ones;
pervasive instability of employment, encouraging people to always be
open to new opportunities, since the current job may vanish at any
time; high rates of immigration for education and wealth