Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
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Friday, February 25, 2005

Open-Source and Marx, Pt 2

Barry posted a comment a few days back arguing that open-source is socialist, not Marxist. It was a good comment - I called open-source Marxist for a very specific reason, which I think is absolutely crucial to understanding it's economics.

In a nutshell, it's this:

Marx argues that capitalists are able to extract surplus value from labour via, essentially, an institutional monopoly on the means of production. Now, the derivation of surplus value (essentially the consumption of labours power at labour's exchange value in exchange for labour's use value) is a little more complicated and is (for me) the heart of Marxian economics.

I think this is a critical first step in building an economics of open-source. One of the implicit (well, often explicit) goals of open-source is that the means of production should be free in terms of both use and exchange value. In other words, open-source is a means to end the monopoly of capital on the means of production.

To get a little more technical, the mechanism works by letting labour realize the gains to it's own exchange (wages) and use (production) values. The really important bit here is what happens to the surplus value in open-source - if you can figure that out, you can build nice econ papers, and sucessful business models too. But no one really has far, the surplus value is simply being arbitraged away by consumers, who are capturing it by getting things for free.

So, Socialism is, I think, more properly a political term. Also, please note that I'm NOT slagging open-source by calling it evil Marxist communist etc. Quite the opposite - I think it's fascinating that geeks have built an economic model which is fundamentally anticapitalist at it's very core (and that's why those of us on the beancounter side are having such a tough time monetizing it).

-- umair // 12:17 PM // 1 comments


Hi Umair,
That was an excellent post.
It is good that you posted soemthing after a long lull period
// Blogger Rajan // 1:45 PM

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