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Re: FSF : lackeys of their corporate masters

From: Russ Allbery
Subject: Re: FSF : lackeys of their corporate masters
Date: Thu, 06 May 2004 15:12:31 -0700
User-agent: Gnus/5.1006 (Gnus v5.10.6) XEmacs/21.4 (Security Through Obscurity, linux)

Bernd Jendrissek <> writes:
> Russ Allbery <> wrote:

>> I set the price of much of my labor at zero.  It would be a direct
>> assault on my freedom to prevent me from doing so.  That would be akin
>> to outlawing charity, an action that I believe is self-evidently evil.

> What action, charity or outlawing it?

Outlawing it.  I should have taken another pass at rephrasing that; it
still wasn't clear.  Sorry about that.

> BTW I don't particularly like charitable giving (when done by myself):
> all it really accomplishes, in many cases, is to provide a public good
> at my personal expense.

Right, that's exactly what it does in the general case.  I don't have a
problem with that particularly.  I do think that most public goods should
be publically funded, but there will always be certain public goods that
can't be or won't be for whatever reason, plus public funding introduces a
significant amount of overhead and waste that small charitable
organizations can avoid.

For example, it's not particularly clear to me that public funding of the
FSF would be the right move.  I'd rather support them directly.
Similarly, it's not clear to me that public funding of Amnesty
International would be possible, since it could potentially compromise
their independence and integrity to take funds from governments that they
may have to be critical of.  I'd rather fund them directly.

> I take it as axiomatic that I'm a good person (who doesn't?), so by
> charitable giving I'd be harming a good person (fewer resources to
> allocate to making a better world), and therefore acting unethically.

I touched on some of this in one of my messages, in that I feel a strong
obligation, given that I have the financial resources to assure this, to
avoid ever being a burden on society myself.  I therefore feel like my
primary goal should be to make sure I have sufficient resources to never
require public support, and only after that to donate resources to other

If public support were more stable and more broadly supported in the US, I
might make different tradeoffs there (for example, only worrying about the
common case and not stockpiling enough resources to remain independent in
the event of more extreme problems), since I think it's valuable for
public support to essentially serve as a universal insurance policy and
spread the danger and risk out among the population.  But the US doesn't
believe in this; most of the insurance available here is of the private
form, run for a profit, and often unreliable and/or disreputable in the
way that risk sharing is handled.

> Twisted, I know, and not very well thought through, but I hope it makes
> the point that it's not as simple as "charitable giving" == "good".

No.  I don't mean to make that point; I just wanted to say that outlawing
charitable giving is obviously bad.  Not all things that can be good are
always used for good.

> In that sense, Snuffelluffogus's claim
>>> Setting the price of their labor at zero is unethical.
> needs argument to dismiss - we can't just appeal to obviousness.

The problem that I have with that statement is that I believe it's a
shifting of the basis of argument in a way that's specious.  It implies
that some external actor is setting the price of other people's labor,
when that's not what's happening.  What is instead happening is that
people are setting the price of their *own* labor, and are in some cases
undercutting other people who want to charge more.

That's simple capitalism.  I agree that capitalism unchecked can go
horribly wrong, but I don't believe that outlawing charity is a way in
which capitalism needs to be checked.  I want to have the right to choose
not to participate in a money-driven society for at least some of my

> That's why I think, in the long run, it's not enough to accept a status
> quo of free software coexisting with proprietary software: proprietary
> software exercises greater moral/ethical latitude, and will always be a
> better vehicle for making profit.  We need to change the *rules* of the
> game, not just the score.

I don't disagree with that.

> You have a very valid point here, Snuffelluffogus, in that in the US,
> corporations really *are* citizens.  The only thing they can't do is
> vote.  That whole corporate personhood thing is a corruption of what
> your "founding fathers" wanted for the country they founded.


I wholeheartedly agree with you here.  I think the whole concept of
corporate personhood is inherently wrong and abusive.

>> So you advocate making it worse by removing even more freedoms?  Hasn't
>> that been tried before?

> Should people be free to sell themselves as slaves?

The problem with selling oneself as a slave is not the price.  It's the
irrevocability of the agreement.  Yes, I absolutely should be free to sell
my labor; what I shouldn't be allowed to do is enter into a contract that
is inherently abusive or denies me unalienable civil rights.  That's the
difference between a slave and an employee.

I don't believe that preventing people from working for free is the right
way to approach the potential problem here.

>> Evidence is mounting for "confused Marxist," I think.

> Yes.  And 14 years of age. It has a very black-and-white view of things,
> makes no allowance for the vast complexity of the real world.
> Everything can be crystallized into "good workers" and "evil
> corporations".

Well, he certainly has a more interesting and even more thoughtful
political position than I had when I was 14.  :)

Russ Allbery (             <>

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