Capitalist goals and free-software (GPL) goals

 A lot of the confusion around how capitalism and GPL can both be successful can only be understood when you realize that each philosophy has completely different goals (money for capitalist & good code for GPL), and each philospophy is attempting different kinds of "efficiency" (maximum wealth for capitalism & highest quailty code for GPL).

This Slashdot poster said it best:

Re:I can't take much more of this (Score:5, Insightful)
by mcc (14761) Alter Relationship <amcclure@purdue.edu> on 2003.10.27 19:04 (#7325176)
(http://allstarpowerup.com/)

The way I look at it is this.

The GPL mindset is designed, at the very core, with the sole end goal of making the best computer program possible. Everything else– the financial success of companies like Redhat included– is merely a means to that end, or coincidental.

The capitalist mindset is designed, at the very core, with the sole end goal of making a bunch of money. Everything else– creating a good product included– is merely a means to that end, or coincidental.

People can sit down and found an open source or a commercial software products with these not being their goals, but the open source project or the company will, in time, take on a life of their own. The project will fork, and leave the hands of the maintainer, if the maintainer does not do everything he can to promote it being the best program possible. The company meanwhile will eventually pass out of its original creator's hands, usually into the hands of a board of directors who care only about making the most money possible.

Because these different mindsets are so different, things the open source community does tend to seem completely mind-bogglingly nonsensical to the commercial community, and vice versa. Both sides would have an easier time understanding each other if it were understood on both sides that with a GPLed program, it is not the people, it is the source code, that is in control; and with a company it is not the people, it is the corporate culture, that is in control. Some groups of people do a better job of keeping a reign on their code/corporation than others, of course, but this is still what things seem to tend toward.

Now, there's something slightly more complicated going on here. It is that in most cases, the corporate side of things comes from a culture in which capitalism as a philosophy reigns supreme. This philosophy says that the free market will always defeat everything, because it is ultimately efficient. The mutual selfishness of everyone, acting upon each other, will ensure that only the strongest companies survive, the market winds up with the most fitting goods possible, and the capitalist system overall ends with as much wealth within it as is possible. They then get confused when these open source "things" crop up that don't seem to follow the rules of capitalism at all. They get confused because their philosophy tells them that the way to succeed is to let capitalism optimise everything; but then they see "inefficient", unoptimized, seemingly altruistic open source succeeding, they can't understand why that is. The first thing they've missed is that the open source world is going for a completely different kind of "efficiency" than the capitalist world. Both worlds want efficiency; they just want efficiency at different things. The second thing they've missed is that Open Source does indeed work within a survival-of-the-fittest free market very much like the one capitalism describes. It's just that it isn't a market of money. It's a market of ideas.

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