Posted by: Anonymous Coward
on October 30, 2004 05:04 AM
There is another generalization overlooked even in Stallman's article. We should not confuse personal possession (like my toothbrush) with commercial property, including: oil tankers, copyright, railway lines, factories, patents, exclusive government contracts and so on. I own a toothbrush, yet it has no commercial value because only I would like to use it to brush my teeth and no one wants to buy a used toothbrush. A railway line has commercial value, but only as long as it is useful for the railway company. For example, in the 19th century railways were being built across the United States for large amounts of capital. One railway line connecting the west to the east would be very valuable and the company would have a monopoly. However, this didn't happen. Other capitalists started building competing lines - some of them were built only for their "nuisance value" to hinder other companies. Yet, this didn't go on forever. We only need so many railway lines, and each additional line would reduce the commercial value of all the lines no matter how "useful" each line was in itself. (You can read up on these heady capitalist days in Matthew Josephson's The Robber Barons (1934) to learn more about such tactics.)
The same goes for Microsoft Word. Word is a very profitable program for Microsoft, their most profitable in fact. The reason Word is so commercially valuable is because they are able to limit the amount of "piracy" and the number of competitive programs (by making it easier to use/install on their near-universal operating system, and by encouraging the use of a propriertary file standard). Without these limitations, Word would be commercially valueless no matter how useful to individual computer users or how many people-hours were spent in producing the program. (We'll see what happens to the commercial value of Word as the free software word processing program OpenOffice.org begins to become more popular.)
So here is my generalization: capitalist enterprises rely on limitations on open and reckless competition in order to remain profitable, and they will do anything to maintain profitability: patents (GIF patent), copyrights (Microsoft), collusion (international oil corporations), international treaties (World Trade Organization), exclusive government contracts (Halliburton and Bechtel in Iraq reconstruction), and so on.
But I suppose to criticize the entire capitalist system is a bit beyond this one article<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;)