Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rodney Hide, Communist?

Rodney Hide, my local MP, says in his blog that he's a Linux fan. In one of the comments on his choice of operating system he got accused of being a commie, perhaps half in jest.

The following is a lightly edited version of something I originally wrote for Slashdot in April, I thought I'd reproduce a slightly cleaned version here.

I wish the people that bandy around terms like commie (communist) would stop and consider what these terms mean.

I am a worker (In my case an intellectual worker, but that doesn't matter) under both capitalism and communism I would be creating a product.

Under capitalism I create something, and I can sell it or give it away as I wish. It doesn't matter if that something is a wooden table or a computer program. It's my choice what I do with it.

The person I sell/gift it to can do with it as he or she wishes. In other words, my product is covered by a BSD licence.

Under communism everything (including the fruits of my labours) belongs to "the people", in actual implementation "the state". I make something, the state pays me a wage and it determines how and by whom the product is used.

Under capitalism (as described by Marx) competitive pressure forces the price of commodity goods down towards the cost of production. The producers can only make a profit by reducing their cost of production, including wages, to a minimum.

What's the true commodity cost of software? The cost of downloading and perhaps the cost of burning it to a CD.

Under communism, the state restricts competition, and interferes in the market, thus keeping the price of commodities high enough to ensure a decent wage for the workers.

The exact mechanism for how it restricts competition isn't that relevant. It could be "5 year plans" stating exactly how many will be produced, it could be limiting the number of people permitted to make the product, or it could be changing the patent rules to permit patenting the product rather than the old "patenting the process" model.

Under communism you have the state creating or enforcing monopolies on the production of commodity items. It doesn't matter if those items are cornflakes or software, the prices are kept artificially high to permit "the workers" to keep more of the wealth.

Looking to the USSR experiment, "the workers" that retained the wealth weren't so much the ones on the factory floor as the managers and the communist functionaries that replaced the former owners, but no-one can realistically argue against the belief that the upper echelons of the society of the USSR were wealthy.

Under capitalism, a number of people chose to develop (or pay others to develop) operating systems like Linux, office suites like OOo, games, etc and then give these products away. Some do it because they see it as fun, others (such as IBM) do it because they aren't in the business of producing commodity software and see this as a step for maximising their profits in the areas where they do see their business. It really doesn't matter, either way it is a capitalist activity.

Rodney Hide selects the best commodity software for his purposes and pays the lowest possible price for that software. Sound lake capitalism to me.

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