The Gimmick Economy: how central banks pretend software isn't eating the world

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But this minority position was a choice made by humans. As we see in the single-payer debate, many, many more things could be classified as public goods…except that they are just so exploitable for wealth generation and concentration if treated as owned and rented goods. Public lands, food, clean water, you name it. Software is under this debate as well. It may have the potential to be treated as the public good that it is, but the reality has been more the “lock it up, and parse it out to those willing to pay.”


extreme examples of this can be found in health care and education. In the UK the NHS (public service, delivering public good from general taxation) spends exorbitant amounts on software architecture–many of these expensive projects such as the Deloitte disaster under T Blair are far greater than anything the private sector commissions. Yet, it is common and generally tolerated practice that the IP rights are owned by the developers rather than by the NHS bodies. This is ludicrous because 1) it requires every hospital to pay separately for a product, for the development of which another hospital has already paid for and 2) it limits the use of the system and makes changes and maintenance unwieldy and difficult–all cost to the public and profit to the private company.


The munged quality of the blue ball gif upsets me:


Nope, I’m not buying it.

Weinstein describes changes in the labor market that might happen in the future, as the cause of events in the past. That’s not how time works. His prediction of the future may be right, but there’s no evidence yet, and there’s probably room for a number of solutions, including horrible dystopias.

Also, how is writing a novel like a Rube Goldberg cartoon?


I am more capitalist than socialist but at some point, if public goods become enough to sustain us, the net result is still an advance or liberation of the worker.

I am extrapolating but if food, shelter, medicine, transportation and the like all become ‘public goods’ then the worker is not displaced to starve and die but rather to pursue higher-level activities like artistic endeavors or other voluntary labors. I suppose the big issue is the time gap between too many individuals being displaced and the sustaining services being truly public. That may be a time of significant social upheaval, maybe even reversals or outlawing of some software solutions (e.g. a live doctor must be present while ‘Mediscan 3000’ does all the work on you).


+1 universal basic income.


Ah, and of course the master of the universe treats software “property” (patents) as an exclusive good and not a collaborative body of knowledge. And we wonder why his argument doesn’t make sense.


The answer of “just give money directly to people” is so non-obvious to those of us (most of us) indoctrinated in capitalist society.

There’s no reason the Fed couldn’t have just given the trillons of dollars directly to each individual household, and allowed the banks who made poor investments to crumble. There’s no reason that corporations deserve tax cuts, rather than the same money being redistributed equally to individuals and families. The “markets” would throw a hissy fit, but the practical outcomes would be remarkably similar.


It’s interesting to see this new attitude about automation, now that middle class jobs are the ones being eliminated. People keep talking about how this time the process of automation is fundamentally different - it isn’t, it’s just that a different class of jobs is being eliminated. The upper and middle classes just didn’t give a shit when it was working class people losing their jobs.
"Previous cycles of automation have displaced some repetitive work while creating new and better forms of labor in the long run (weavers put out of work by looms, new textile industries created by cheap fabric)."
I assume by “new and better forms of labor” we’re talking about machines? Because there’s this popular idea that automation may eliminate jobs, but it also automatically creates new, better jobs that just isn’t true. The jobs went away, usually replaced by a much smaller number of more poorly paid jobs. Other economic factors allowed for the creation of better jobs. New conditions created by the automation also eventually created the possibility of different jobs, but not necessarily better ones. Textiles is a good example. The industrial revolution replaced skilled textile workers with automated looms and poorly paid machine operators. (And created a lot of social upheaval and extreme poverty that lead to the formation of the modern welfare state and educational system, eventually, as a response.) India, as part of the British empire, was forced to import this cheap industrially produced cloth at prices that destroyed their entire textile industry. (Something which eventually happened to the rest of the third world.) The British textile industry thrived because it exported its job losses and had a captive market. Eventually it exported even the low-paid textile jobs overseas. Sure, eventually this almost disposably cheap clothing allowed the fashion industry (and the consumer culture) to form. But it’s not like all those jobs were great, either - the bulk of them being exploited models and interns, sweatshop workers… In the past, automation eliminated non-educated jobs, forcing more workers into educated positions that were being created because, coincidentally, the economies were growing.


So your contention is that if a person has a good idea and spends a lot of time, energy, and probably money trying to develop that idea into a marketable product that improves people’s lives, that there should then be no safeguards against someone else swooping in, reverse-engineering the technology, and stealing the market out from under the innovator? (The second-handers will have the advantage of not having to spend much money on R&D.)

In other words, you think there should be no incentive to innovate in the first place, except perhaps the warm fuzzies one gets from helping someone else get rich?

Why do you hate innovators?

I actually think it’s been shown that giving money to the poor has a better effect than giving to the banks. Poor people immediately spend the money on products and needs, that would have immediately boosted demand and caused companies to need to hire people to fill it. Could have slowed the recession, reduced its severity or length. Instead we get this lackluster recovery with finally recovering employment in some areas but stagnant wages.


I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic or ironic, but it has been reported on BoingBoing several times that there is a thriving industry like that, it is called fashion.

I think that the question is how much safeguard and for how long. What we have seen is that the corporations want to extend the times of protection to longer and longer times to make more money. This actually stifles innovation since it is so long before you can use someones idea (embodied in the product and possibly protected by patent or copyright) to do their own innovation and make the next generation of thing that will improve people’s lives.


software engineers (if they’re any good) are included in the wrong category. I write something once, I may reuse it in another place somewhere else as part of another one off. I don’t do repetitive tasks. That sounds awful.


In that the particular information you might need to get it “just right” varies greatly from case to case.

However, I agree with the criticism that @HMSGoose refers to, that hey, take a look at Thiel Capital companies, how many of them are open sourcing significant IP and thus contributing to this supposed proliferation of public goods as we move into the information economy. So is software eating the world? I don’t know, I think the argument needs work in this spot.


So your contention is that if a person has a good idea and spends a lot of time, energy, and probably money trying to develop that idea into a marketable product that improves people’s lives, that there should then be no safeguards

Not my contention. Royalties are fine, and the whole patent system is a way for society to subsidize invention, which is also fine. Some subsidies are not well structured. Treating patent owners like landed aristocrats is particularly bad when nearly anyone can hold a patented idea in their head and use it, while the supposed owners rarely actually hold the idea they own in their heads. If it’s property (which I won’t concede), its not exclusive.

Why do you hate innovators?

We’re all inventors. “Innovators” is a horseshit marketing term.


I suppose the big issue is the time gap between too many individuals being displaced and the sustaining services being truly public.

Unfortunately, the powers that be have effectively captured nearly all of the increased productivity for themselves, and have outlawed any benefit from the incredible cornucopial abundance of digital products. Logic and humanist intentions might predict society moving toward public access to abundance, but the money that controls politics is dependent on scarcity.

Unlimited free copying is legally restricted to acts that benefit the corporate citizenry. Scarcity is manufactured in order to keep us poor.


If that’s an industry that you think the world economy should emulate, then we obviously have different ideas of a successful world. The paying part of fashion survives entirely on the largess of the rich attempting to obtain reputational advantage by patronage.

The rest of the industry is survives by trying to squeeze pennies out of third world production.

In a world where we can copy anything for free, Amazon gains 100% of the benefit of author’s works. Large corporations sweep the globe for interesting intellectual property to capitalize on.

If the scales have always been tilted towards implementation of new ideas vs. creation of new ideas, removing the vestiges of viability from the creation side isn’t going to help matters.

Of course they are. Everybody wants more money. In a different thread, my idea that those in the global 1% should pay more was ridiculed as they obviously need more money. Expecting people/companies to limit themselves to “enough” is to fly in the face of the mankind’s entire history.

The problem is not that people are trying to get more money. It is that government has failed to strike the balance that I believe maximizes innovation. And since the government are our representatives, that kind of lays the problem on us, not the corporations.

I will also say that I while I do strongly agree on the reining back copyright and patent times, I often find this used as some sort of “moral cover” for simple piracy. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the people justifying bit-torrenting a movie released last week using a company’s attempt to extend the copyright on early Mickey Mouse movies.

Shuck, the problem lies that in the long term, one cannot be paid more than one’s productivity. A person working on a farm without automation cannot produce enough to be paid more than a third-world wage. In other words, automation to increase productivity (along with all the massive upheaval that accompanies it) is a necessary prerequisite to having our comfortable modern lifestyle.

Those “other economic factors” are based on the automation that you decry.

If you truly expect the majority of any group to be concerned about those outside the group, you’ve not looked very closely at how the world works. If you are concerned, I applaud you. However, in that case perhaps the sentiment “how dare people not share my insights” is less useful than “What can I do to get people to care about what I care about?”.

And yet farm workers on automated farms still get paid third world wages, funnily enough. (And industrial farming often simply renders actual third world farmers unable to compete.) In part because, in post-industrial corporate economies, one can’t be paid as much as one’s productivity, either. Automation doesn’t guarantee a decent wage, even if you’re one of the few to be employed. Of course automation increases productivity - that’s the problem for the labor market; the number of people required to fulfill a particular function goes down, leading to job loss in the sector. But you’re also stating things kind of backwards, here. The semi-skilled textile workers of pre-industrial Europe made a relatively decent wage (at least compared to the machine operators that replaced them), but the cost of an item of clothing was many times higher than it is today, especially considering that production costs are a fraction of the total cost of an item of clothing now. One of the things that automation does is drive down prices and increase profits for the owners of the businesses (although that second part can negate the benefit to customers).

First of all, I’m not “decrying” it - I’m trying to be honest about the problems it creates for labor forces (at least they’re problems within existing social/economic conditions that require people to be employed). Secondly, those economic factors are based on automation in the sense that they’re factors that exist within a post-industrial economy, sure. But the act of rendering people unemployed with automation did not, in itself, create those improved economic conditions.

Expecting people to be sociopaths doesn’t strike me as a particularly useful approach to the world. Some of the social changes that were spearheaded by those in the middle/upper classes in response to the misery created in the working classes by industrialization are why industrialization ended up eventually having a positive impact on first world countries. (And part of the reason why countries that are currently industrializing without those kinds of programs aren’t seeing the same sorts of benefits.) It took a couple generations for the people with power to finally notice what was going on and do something positive in response (although, granted, they were only responding after some pretty horrific social conditions had arisen and created problems that at least indirectly impacted everyone). Perhaps it won’t take that long now that the middle and upper classes are finally the ones being impacted (although given the concentration of power in the hands of the 0.1% of the population least affected, I won’t hold my breath for immediate change).
And they’re hardly my insights.