Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Interview: Richard Stallman

This quote from an Interview with Richard Stallman starts to cut to the future we need to start facing up to:

"Free (as in speech) software addresses the issue of how computer users can have freedom to cooperate and to control their own computers. This is the larger issue that becomes relevant when you start talking about 'How are people going to have jobs that pay them decently?' The answer is: in the world of the low wage treaties, they're not going to.

"It's inconsistent and future to subject millions of people to the loss of freedom that non-free software imposes, just so that a tiny segment of society will have better paying jobs, when we're ignoring all the rest of society with their lousy jobs.

"If you want to start doing something about that problem, do it at the right level, which is the level of the power balance between corporations and countries. Corporations are too powerful now. We have to knock them down. I don't believe in abolishing business or even in abolishing corporations, but we've got to make sure that no corporation is powerful enough that it can say to all the countries in the world, 'I'll punish any country that doesn't obey.'

It's no good to be afraid of outsourcing, or to try and reverse the trend by forcing big businesses to think twice. The fact that corporations are bigger than many countries is a clue here - to the fact that there's a trend towards the small people, in whatever quantity, becoming extremely powerless in the face of the business.

However, that's not to say that the small people are powerless to achieve their own needs by themselves. Stopping businesses from doing something is one thing, but ignoring them is another altogether.

From the the vast majority of people's point of view, a globalised capitalism is rapidly becoming against their interests, as the high-tech infrastructures we rely upon inherently depend upon our ability to pay, and therefore our ability to find sufficiently-paid work. To follow the software paradigm, those who rely on Windows legitimately will ultimately find it harder and harder to pay the asking price, if the expected income derived from their job is reduced due to a much larger, world-sized labour market. Currently, this affects developing countries more than developed, but as workforces shift away from the West, and people start worrying about where their food rather than their bandwidth is coming from, who controls the code that controls our infrastructure will become increasingly important.

To take another example, there is much to-ing and fro-ing over the use of Open-Source software in public agencies, Governments, et al. The arguments revolving around this tend to center on one thing - cost. Installation cost, support cost, TCO. Nowhere have I seen (and I may just be blind) anyone pushing for open-source software as a source for independence. For a local government with the right skills and open source software can do so, so much more by itself than one with the right skills and a closed code base. Furthermore, the money generated through technical support on a local basis is money that goes on to stick around in the same local economy - what goes around, comes around, all to the benefit of the people you see and speak to every day. In a world where "traditional" jobs are now based 5,000 miles away, that's pretty influential, IMHO.

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