Saturday, October 22, 2005

Marxism and open source

Though he didn’t point it out directly, Yochai Benkler’s talk yesterday at Poptech got me thinking about how the open source paradigm relates to the good old marxist analysis of the power of controlling the means of production.
Marx showed how capitalism tends towards ever larger players as each company has to invest in ever more advanced and more expensive machinery in order to compete.
To finance this increasing investment the companies need to expand their market and this gradually presses out the smaller players who lose out in the escalation of investments.
So, in this way capitalise leads to fewer producers, more expensive means of production and a very clear distinction between those that have the means to produce and the masses that consume.
We see this in places like the production of micro processors, cars, or LCD screens. There’s only room for a handfull of players in these industries – you cannot make chips as a cottage industry.

But then a completely different kind of technology comes along. With PC and networks, suddenly the means of production are in-expensive, they’re in the hands of millions, they are suited for networking, co-laboration.
So the lines between producer and consumer blurrs, and it spreads as more industries see a rising part of what they produce becoming information, digital content.
Obviously, the next step will be when actual physical manufacturing gets into the hands of the masses as 3D printing makes it way into everyday reality.
We’re in the middle of a clash of economic paradigms. In fact the clash extends much further – but that’s a very long story.

1 comment:

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