Subject: Re: Questions about Symbolics lisp machines
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 07:41:51 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Thomas Bushnell, BSG
| Nobody here has proposed removing the copyright statutes.  But Kent
| seemed to think that at least some people doing free software were
| directly harming him in a way that was morally faulty.  And you seemed to
| agree, saying that it's *wrong* to write free application software.
| (Forgive me if I've oversimplified; if I've misunderstood and correct
| me--with politeness.)

  Please consider more carefullly the option of thinking more clearly about
  what people say before you ask them to spend the time and effort you have
  not to correct the consequences of what you have not done.

  In the city of Oslo, we have a rather curious arrangement.  We have a
  fairly large number of taxicabs (1200) for our rather small population
  (about 500 000 residents, about 800 000 people who use city facilities
  daily).  On weekend nights, between 03 and 04, the load on the taxis is
  enormous, and since most of them have fairly long tours out of the city
  center.  So some politician got upset when he did not get his cab ride
  home from a late-night party one weekend, and concluded that more cabs
  where necessary.  (Never mind that there are at least 800 unfilled cab
  driver jobs vacant at any time.  Never mind that the cab owners cannot
  afford the generous sick leave that their employed drivers are entitled
  to.)  So this political genius wanted "competition" in the industry, as
  opposed to the government-granted monopoly and the government-controlled
  taxi fares that had sustained the cab-owner-owned taxicab company.  Now,
  there was a shortage of drivers, and the cooperative that allowed each
  licensed cab driver to have only their main car in operation in non-peak
  hours could no longer control the number of cars on the street.  There
  were some obvious disadvantages to this competition -- startup costs for
  the new taxi centrals, for the new taxi owners, etc, so these brilliant
  politicians decided to use tax money to support the competition, just for
  the sake of having some "competition".  Now one of these companies have,
  entirely unexpectedly, run into serious financial trouble.  Even though
  the taxi fares have supposedly been liberated, they all charge exactly
  the same, now.  The only difference is that because of this competition
  charade, which could never have been sustained without government grants
  and support, is that the contender is facing competition from people who
  are not risking their own money, who can go under without much loss, and
  the contender thus has a serious problem: Their ability to make money is
  artificiall curtailed by a political decision to install a "competition"
  for which there was no need or grounds: the shortage of drivers, the
  inability of owners to pay benefits for their employed drivers, the
  government control of their fares, _and_ the government control of the
  number of cab owner licenses to begin with.  It should come as a surprise
  to no one that the number of cab drivers has declined after a brief
  increase (while the number of cab owners has increased), that those who
  are left earn less per hour, even after an increase in their fares, and
  that there are more cabs on the street competing for the same reduced
  market.  This artificial competition was constructed by politicians who
  had a political agenda to force it to exist, but they were so stupid that
  they undercut the market by injecting it with free money which could be
  wasted away while the main contender lost its ability to manage the set
  of cab driver licenses in operation.  All in all, it is a total failure
  with no redeeming qualities, and we have quickly become a city of first-
  generation immigrant cab drivers who do not know their way around the
  next corner who have driven the older cab drivers who had been driving a
  cab for 40 years and provided a very stable, welcome service to the many
  Oslovians who refuse to own cars in this country where 75% of the sale
  price of a new car is taxes, where 75% of the price of gasoline is taxes
  (while the diesel used by the taxicabs is way less expensive).  The end
  result is that more people buy cars, clogging the already clogged road
  network of Oslo, more people drink and drive in weekends, fewer older
  people use taxis with immigrant drivers who do not understand where they
  want to go, nor are able to talk much with them, which was, to many older
  people (who get taxi rides at the cost of public transport as part of
  their benefits), provided a very welcome social contact.  This stupid
  "competition" has basically ruined an extremely well-functioning service
  -- and what for?  Some politician who believed "competition" as such
  would cure his inability to get a cab on a weekend night, so he gave away
  free money to people would not otherwise have gone into the business so
  they could "compete".  Understandably, older cab drivers have found other
  ways to make money if they can, or have retired.

  Free software has the same effect: It skews the return on investment for
  some people to the point where they decide to spend their mental energy
  and their labor elsewhere, where it is more rewarding.  This leads, in
  turn, to the inability of the moderately competent to get well paid, so
  they leave, and the average competence level drops, which hurts the
  ability to build safe and useful infrastructure, as well as hurting the
  ability of maturer programmers to communicate their skills to the next
  generation.  The end result of this is the same kind of horizontal
  communication that afflicts teenagers who only communicate with their own
  age group and basically reinvent _everything_ they could have been told
  about or learned from the experience of their elders.  Free software is
  already being produced by child labor, funded by many parents who have no
  idea what their kids spend their time on, but at least it is not drugs.

| So here's the question: if I wanted to spend my money on giving as much
| bread away as I could, and I started a movement to do that along with
| other people, would that be wrong?

  Yes, because it would most probably mean that I could no longer buy the
  bread I want -- I already have to convince my grocer to stock it because
  he does not sell a lot of it, and for a while, I had to special-order it.
  It does not cost a lot more than the "standard" bread, but it tastes so
  much better.  I dislike the "standard" bread intensely -- at home I
  always got freshly baked bread.  Bread would become an irrelevant
  nutrient that I most probably would no longer eat.  Bread would be the
  staple food of choice for the lower classes, and eating any bread would
  be seen as a lower-class thing as such, much like cheap, greasy
  hamburgers.  Sweden has had such a damaging centralization of their bread
  bakers that they basically offer only "standard" bread -- and the
  consequence is that they have this dried, nearly flat bread called
  "knekkebrød", which, of course, is more expensive than bread, but which
  people buy in large volumes.  Denmark has a very different culture, in
  which everybody drives out on Sunday morning to their baker to get fresh,
  hot bread or other wondrous bakery products.  In Norway, bakeries are
  closed on Sundays.  When I lived in Sunnyvale, CA, I found some variety,
  but basically the same kind of boring bread as in Stockholm.  The only
  time I really enjoyed bread in the United States, was a brief stay with a
  girlfriend in the Italian quarters in Boston.  My stays in Denmark have
  always been accompanied with excellent bakery products and friendly hosts
  who really enjoy showing off this great custom.  Now, excuse me, I have a
  store-bought half-baked bread in the oven that should be ready.  Would I
  have been happy to get it for free?  Sure -- provided nothing else would
  change, but I know too much about how the world works to think that
  nothing else would change if you change such an important factor as
  price, and I do not want those changes to happen.  I'd rather eat cake.

  In a fight against something, the fight has value, victory has none.
  In a fight for something, the fight is a loss, victory merely relief.