Open Source Socialism
Is Open Source Socialism the future for mankind?
Socialism, and its progeny, Communism, have been declared dead and buried. The 2nd half of the 20th century saw a battle between Socialism and Capitalism – and Capitalism won hands down.
Very few states now would be seen as a Communist. Not many more could even be described a Socialist.
Even countries, like China, where the Communist Party still rules, are communist in name only. They have a thriving market economy.
Communism was a great idea. “From each according to his abilities. To each according to his needs” said Karl Marx.
However, it didn’t work. Communism is virtually dead. Socialism is not far behind.
It would have been great if there was little gap in income between rich and poor. It would have been great if countries using the communist model were outperforming those using the Capitalist model.
However, they didn’t. In fact it was just the reverse. Free market economies were easily outperforming socialist economies.
I tend to be a pragmatist. If something works – great!
If it doesn’t, don’t hang onto it out of principle.
However, the death of Socialism may have been declared far too early.
It clearly didn’t suit the Industrial Age where humans still supplied almost all of the labour.
People weren’t motivated in the way an entrepreneur would be motivated.
However, will Socialism fit better in the Information Age, the Age of the Internet?
Will Open Source Socialism be more productive than Capitalism?
Will great armies of ordinary people voluntarily working together be more productive than entrepreneurs in producing wealth?
Let’s look at examples of what you might call modern day Open Source Socialism.
- Linux operating system
- Moxilla Firefox and Chromium internet browsers
The three above are outpacing their commercial rivals.
Yet none of them are profit-making.
They are all free to use and they have been created by voluntary labour.
Great armies of people across the world are updating the software related to these and keeping them in front of their commercial rivals.
Another example of what I would call Open Source Socialism would be Wikipedia.
It’s now the world’s best known encyclopaedia of knowledge across the globe. It’s now the world’s font of knowledge.
Again armies of people across the world, working for free, are keeping this updated.
Wikipedia is beating its market-based commercial rivals hands down.
And yet what are these but the modern day equivalent of Workers’ Co-operatives.
Whilst researching this article I saw one fact on Wikipedia that astonished me. I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me that.
It is that code written for Open Source has an error rate of 0.17 errors for every 1,000 lines of code.
Normal code in commercial organisations has an error rate of 20 to 30 errors per 1,000 lines of code.
That means that code written for a commercial organisation will have 250 errors in it for every error in Open source code.
One can think of possible reasons for this. One is that figures show that most computer code is written by people with less than 2 years coding experience. That’s because people want to get promotions and get away from writing code. They want to be Business Analysts, Project Leaders and Project Managers.
One would imagine that those writing code for Open Source systems would be doing it for the love it – and would probably have much more experience in writing code.
So, we can see that although Capitalism easily beat Socialism, where you pay people to do a job, when people do a task because the really want to do it, and are paid nothing for doing so, this Open Source Socialism model easily beats Capitalism.
It looks like the best people for the job are those who most likely to want to do it.
I read recently that they are predicting that 57% of today’s jobs will be done by robots in the future. That’s not just in the manual professions but in middle class professions too, e.g. Accountants, Judges and even IT Developers.
Perhaps the secret is to make all work voluntary. Then all jobs will be done by the people who have the best skills to do the jobs and the greatest desire to do them.
So, how would people earn their money?
They would be given it.
Everyone would get an income.
If they didn’t want to do anything, good luck to them. However, the vast majority of people want to do something with their lives.
I’m sure you could think of quite a few things you would like to do if you didn’t have to work for a living.
You would probably be far more motivated to do them too than you are in your current job.
One of the great problems that we have at the moment is the disparity of wealth between those at the top and the great majority of ordinary people.
It seems that the 8 richest people in the world are worth more than the bottom half of the world’s population, i.e. 3.5 billion people.
It’s outrageous – and people complain about the money that working class footballers get.
It’s not something that is going to change, either, if things carry on the way they are going.
With the advent of robots and robotic technology, more and more wealth will lie in the hands of the few.
This is not healthy.
Donald Trump won the US election by telling people from states like Detroit that he was going to bring their car manufacturing jobs back from China, India and Mexico.
However, even if he does manage to bring some back it will be short term.
It’s a myth that Indians, Chinese and Mexicans are taking American manufacturing jobs.
They are taking some of them.
However, figures show that in the decade up to the year 2010, 85% of American manufacturing jobs lost were lost to robots.
Indeed, those under the most threat from robots now are those Indians, Chinese and Mexicans who are doing those manufacturing jobs that were moved there form America.
It seems that a manufacturing robot costs $8.50 an hour. They don’t need to go home at night. They don’t need medical benefits and don’t need a pension.
If American car companies use expensive American labour and German and Japanese car companies are using cheaper, Indians, Chinese and Mexicans they will be able to compete in price favourably with American cars.
You can force companies to take back American workers. However, you cannot force consumers to buy the cars they make rather than cheaper Japanese or German cars.
Of course, if the German and Japanese car companies are using robots while US car companies are using American workers, their cars will be even more favourably priced against the American ones.
There’s just no future in that.
We have to accept that the world is going to change very rapidly in the next 10 to 20 years and prepare for that.
There’s no point in saying ‘stop the world. I want to get off’.
Globalisation is here to stay. The automation of the workforce is here to stay.
Once we accept that we can then start working out what to do about it and plan the future.
If we don’t, then income disparity will become even greater.
There will be great masses of people out of work, replaced by robots and other technology. There will be a few dozen very rich people who will own virtually all of the world’s wealth.
That’s unless we plan for something else.
So, let’s look into our crystal ball and start to imagine what a future would be like if most people didn’t work.
Let’s imagine that everyone is guaranteed an income whether they worked or not.
Of course some people would do nothing. However I believe the vast majority of people would want to do something. They would be able to choose what they did.
Income would no longer be related to how much work you did and how successful you were at it.
Any work you did would be unpaid. You would do it because you wanted to do it.
You would be like the vast armies of people who contribute to Wikipedia, Linux, Mozilla Firefox, Chromium and WordPress who work for free and create a product which is much better than commercial enterprises can create.
You can choose the line that you are in. You might want to choose charity work. You might want to teach others. Or you might want to be a member of the vast armies of software developers.
We already have 3D printers who can replicate anything it seems. They will become more sophisticated and more easily available in the future.
Any of you who have seen Star Trek will have seen the Food Replicators that they have on board. They can order anything they want and they can have it almost instantly.
I know that this is fiction but many of those things that were fiction on Star Trek have become reality.
Indeed, the 3D printers are just the first step in this direction.
So, we won’t necessarily have to buy things from very rich people in the future. There is no need for them to own these replicators.
For many things that we want to buy, e.g. cars, TVs, Phones etc. there will be a hardware and software element to them. The software element will become more and more important in the future.
One can imagine the Replicators creating the hardware side of these devices plus the existing software side.
However, things cannot stand still. The software must get better and better.
So, who would make the software side continuously improving?
Why, it would be the Open Source developers – the same kind of people who are making WordPress, Linux, Mozilla Firefox and Chromium so good.
They would do it, as now, for nothing, and so, as with WordPress, there is no charge for upgrades to the latest version.
Indeed, you might argue that if everything is free, including food, cars, TVs etc. why do you need money at all?
Perhaps you won’t – but that may be sometime down the line.
So, where would the money come from to be able to pay everyone an income without them working.