The Simple Economics of Open Source

Tres Seaver tseaver at
Sun Apr 23 05:42:11 CEST 2000

In article <VLvUljAKNfA5EwPM at>,
Robin Becker  <robin at> wrote:
>In article <14837CB4E98A72FE.8FD547BA6E928594.5A103CFE68327EB7 at lp.airnew
>>, Tres Seaver <tseaver at> writes
>>"That dog won't hunt!"  Your claim that "basically no one makes the
>>effort" is easily refuted:  consider the League of Women Voters,
>>and the guides they put out before each election -- that effort is
>>well-organized, and involves coordinated, non-partisan effort on the
>>scale of tens of thousands of volunteers (much like a large Open Source
>>project).  The League's explicit motive is to educate themselves and
>>the population at large on the issues and candidates;  that at least
>>some of the effort here is altruistic is obvious to anyone who hasn't
>>"internalized [economics'] assumptions."
>I don't think the pessimists amongst whom I count myself reject altruism
>totally. A purely altruistic action has benefit for others and none for
>the actor. Very few of the altruistic examples in the thread come close.
>A lot of claims are made, but few are verifiable. I think the
>internalized utility assumptions are a bit spurious as there is evidence
>that many of the assumptions that economists make (about human
>behaviour) are not verifiable and in some cases have been shown to be
>true; a classic example is the assumption of risk averse behaviour in
>investment decisions. I feel that the assumption that economic agents
>(people) always behave as though they have a well defined utility is
>false. I think that what economists are really saying is that they have
>a model where the 'average' agent has such a utility and that the model
>gives good results for certain problems. In this sense the average
>volunteer feels they behave in a non-partisan altruistic way, but the
>ensemble actually behaves selfishly although this is not selfishness in
>the way we normally think of it. 

OK, I'll by the "significant empirical predictive power" bit;  I was
actually objecting to the specific example (voter apathy), and then
vented my distaste for the prevailing mechanistic assumptions.

Utility-is-for-ants,-give-me-virtue-anytime'ly :)

Tres Seaver        tseaver at
Digital Creations

More information about the Python-list mailing list