Subject: Re: Fwd: Wall Street article on a new Cooperative
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Thu, 22 Apr 2004 00:29:24 +0900

>>>>> "Bernard" == Bernard Lang <> writes:

    Bernard> That is missing my point.  These people may be mistaken.
    Bernard> But most of then do make a distinction (right or wrong)
    Bernard> between their own interest and what tey believe to be
    Bernard> public interest.

    Bernard> But maybe I misunderstood your point.

My original point is that there is a subset of people who think that
their personal interest is the same as the public interest because
everybody they know agrees with them on what "the public interest" is.

Economists usually write "selfish interest" to mean that people only
care about their own consumption, which seems to be what y ou mean by
"own interest".  "Personal interest" means all the things important to
a person, as that person defines them.  It turns out there are severe
technical problems in analyzing non-selfish interests in others'
welfare---there are few papers that deal with them, even in ad-hoc
ways---but the issues I'm talking about here don't require
mathematical rigor.

So this *personal interest* includes "living in a nice world", eg,
with no child labor.  I think all "nice" people agree that 12-year-
olds should be in school, not breaking their eyes and backs in dimly
lit, dusty manufacturing facilities.  So it is _not_ a sacrifice to
pay 20% more for your basketball shoes if that's how much costs go up
when sweatshops employing children are shut down, if you "care" about
those children, any more than it is a "sacrifice" to buy food for your
own children.

But it is not at all obvious that those children would agree that
unemployment is a good thing!  Just because the boycott organizers in
the US think those 12-year-olds should be studying their ABCs doesn't
guarantee they won't go into the sex trade when the sweatshop is shut
down.  In fact, there are documented cases of exactly that (well, on
Japanese TV and Agnes Chan, former UN "Children's Ambassador").  *If
you don't consider how to prevent sexual slavery when you protest
child labor in manufacturing,* you are confusing your personal
interest in "having a nice world" with the public interest, one
component of which is the welfare of those children.

People who are genuinely concerned with the public interest must
systematically work to get "out of the box" of their personal
experience and that of their circle of acquaintances.

Economics is one way of systematically escaping from the box, as long
as you don't take the GDP data _too_ seriously---that's right back
into a different box.  The data on what people actually do gives hints
as to what they want to do.  So the fact that those kids are working
in sweatshops suggests that offering them money will induce them to
take risks with their freedom, and suddenly the possibility of _worse_
employment than sweatshop manufacturing becomes apparent.  And if you
look for it, at least in some places, you _will_ find it.  :-(

Travel is another way, more accurate in any given place, but of course
it's hard to travel to as many places as you can get economic data for.

    Bernard> Public interest is hard to define because it involves
    Bernard> lots of conflicting issues, which can be valued
    Bernard> differenlty by different individuals ... etc ...

    >> Yup.  My point is precisely that "much of the time" the person
    >> in question *didn't* consider that, merely because he doesn't
    >> know anybody with a different opinion or who grew up in
    >> different circumstances from himself.

    Bernard> That is ok ... it does happen ... but I do not believe it
    Bernard> is the majority case, at least when people are truly
    Bernard> concerned with public welfare.

I don't think very many people are truly concerned with public welfare
by that standard.  Whether they're willing to "sacrifice" for what
they believe in is not correlated with "true concern" as far as I can
see.  :-(  Of course, Japan is particularly bad in this respect, but I
can't say much good for the "progressive" circles I've seen in the U.S.

    Bernard> I consider economic efficiency as a global thing, but it
    Bernard> has to be balanced with other - non-measurable - issues
    Bernard> such as preservation of basic freedom.  Or is that waht
    Bernard> you said ?

Yes and no; you're giving my words more credit than they deserve.
Some hard-to-measure issues can be balanced, but the balance is of
course approximate.  Freedom, though, either is, or it isn't.  You
can't really trade it off.  So yes, I was trying to go beyond naive
GDP-ism, but I can't claim to have gone as far as "preserving basic
freedom".  I don't think economic analysis has any right to claim
being able to balance that against, say, consumption of food.

    Bernard>   But this is a standard problem. Not specific to free
    Bernard> software.

The point is that it is relevant to free software, and I think it
needs discussion if we are going to be effective advocates---ie,
having a more unified voice than we currently do.

Consider rms's success.  One thing he does superbly is define the
issues, and create a vocabulary for presenting them.  I wish he'd turn
that talent to a unifying "subset" vocabulary for the whole FLOSS
community, but I suppose he would consider that "obfuscation".

    Bernard> Amicalement


Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
               Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.