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The Almighty Buck Government Software Politics

FOSS Development As Economic Stimulus 365

Posted by kdawson
from the piece-of-the-action dept.
heybus writes "Economist Dean Baker, best known for calling the housing bust and warning of the ensuing economic collapse, has just published his recommendations for how to allocate President-elect Obama's estimated $800 billion economic stimulus plan. Among other things, Baker calls for juicing the economy with $2 billion worth of government spending to support the development of free and open source software. Baker's idea is similar to the New Deal federal arts and writers' projects: the government would fund projects as long as they produce freely available code. In addition to employing programmers, 'the savings [to consumers] in the United States alone could easily exceed the cost of supporting software development.'"
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FOSS Development As Economic Stimulus

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  • Open Source (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Z00L00K (682162) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:37AM (#26445201) Homepage

    Open Source is the ultimate in re-usable investments in the area of computer technology.

    • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dj245 (732906) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:03AM (#26445341) Homepage

      I'm not so sure I agree. When you build a bridge or a dam, you get something tangible that will be with you for 30+ years. Its there, and you can use it until it is demolished or replaced. The Brooklyn bridge, the Hoover Dam, etc have been with us for a very long time.

      When you write some software, the benefit is not so obvious over the long term. Things have a habit of being rewritten completely in relatively short intervals. How much of the code from Linux of even 15 years ago is in the current kernel? How much of AutoCAD 1.0 is in the current version? The code gets rewritten and forgotten. The programmers learn experience and gain skill, but that isn't something that we need stimulus packages for. If we're going to spend unfathomable amounts of MY money, lets have something to show for it that will still be useful in 80 years.

      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <elmuerte@Nospam.drunksnipers.com> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:13AM (#26445405) Homepage

        And that is exactly one of the benefits of Open Source/Free Software. You have the ability to change the software so that it will keep working in 15 years. With closed source/non-free software you have to rely on the software provider to keep their software updated while the runtime environment changed.

        It doesn't matter if code is rewritten or forgotten. When you have the source you can always see it. If AutoCAD 1.0 does exactly what you need, then why would you want to get 2.0 or 23.0? Unless it's FLOSS, you simply have to, because 1.0 simply might not run on the replacement hardware. Software does not break because of old-age, unlike hardware.

        • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jimicus (737525) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:24AM (#26446011)

          Software does not break because of old-age, unlike hardware.

          Addendum: In order for this to work, you need source-level access to the entire software stack from the OS upwards.

          • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

            by jabjoe (1042100) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @07:56AM (#26447097)

            Addendum: In order for this to work, you need source-level access to the entire software stack from the OS upwards.

            Er no. Once you have the source of the app, you can port it to different APIs, or make a wrapper to replace old APIs it uses. Of course if the APIs aren't open source, you have to rely on the documentation, if there is no documentation then you have to work on deduction.

            It's better if everything is open, of course, but it doesn't all fall down if one bit isn't. Because the rest is open, you can always replace the bit that isn't.

        • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:25AM (#26446015) Homepage

          It doesn't matter if code is rewritten or forgotten. When you have the source you can always see it. If AutoCAD 1.0 does exactly what you need, then why would you want to get 2.0 or 23.0? Unless it's FLOSS, you simply have to, because 1.0 simply might not run on the replacement hardware. Software does not break because of old-age, unlike hardware.

          Try getting any piece of old software to run and you know it's a big pain. Hardware changes, APIs change, ABIs change, formats of choice change, they don't respect modern UI conventions, operating system hints, the anicent IPC means it doesn't talk to anything else and so on. FLOSS doesn't magically make it work on more hardware/environments, unless you're running version 2.0 or 23.0 of the open source software too. Yes, you have to pay the software provider for new versions but you're somehow assuming the FLOSS fairy would deliver updated code, but that work has to come from somewhere too.

          The real advantage to open source isn't that there's less maintenance required, it's that without competiton there's no reason for a business not to gauge as much as possible out of their customers. Open source effectively caps what you can charge for a closed source "light" version, what you can charge for a closed source software or workflow because there's the option to go with open source, deal with or fix its limitations. Ideally, the most socially effective solution is typically to write something once - duplication is waste. Except we all know that is a real shitty solution if you got a selfish corporation gouging you for it.

          A few open source implementations probably do more than hundred different attempts at making closed source clones to increase overall efficiency. Of course it'll suck for those people that are made superfluous but people are always needed elsewhere. Sure there's practical issues of unemployment and obsolete skillsets but ultimately we'll never have enough productivity. There'll never be a situation where we fundamentally don't need anyone anywhere. If we look a little past the current downturn, during the next 20-40 years most of the western world will have population stagnation or even retraction. The workforce will be less in comparison to the population than ever before. We *are* going to need every hour of work, better spent elsewhere than trying to clone some software that open source could have done once.

        • by EatHam (597465)

          If AutoCAD 1.0 does exactly what you need, then why would you want to get 2.0 or 23.0?

          Because you are a design shop, not a software development shop, and you do not want to spend $500,000 to save $50,000.

          • Who said anything about spending $500k doing development? GP was simply stating that if X 1.0 does everything that you bought it for, what reason do you have for upgrading to X 2.0?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            With the pricing of AutoCAD today, what you spend every year on AutoCAD upgrades and new licenses you could hire a programmer to do the changes that *YOU* care about. Also, that programmer could be paid as well by other firms. So in the end everybody wins. You effectively cut out the Marketing/Sales middle men.

            • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Interesting)

              by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@MOSCOWgmail.com minus city> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:48AM (#26448307) Journal

              Just to play devils advocate here, in the old days, the long long ago, when you bought a big app from some development house, it was understood that you were going to customize it, and you licensed the source along with the compiled app.

              27 years later, I'm supporting one of those apps, and 27 years of customization has created a monster that I dream nightly of killing (preferably, with fire). Another business unit of the same company (which I also maintain) runs the same software, but their version was customized by different people, and the two systems are wildly divergent.

              Individual customizations on software are necessarily not a good thing in the long run.

      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dvice_null (981029) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:37AM (#26445493)

        Just because you have to rewrite something doesn't mean that it doesn't help you. E.g. I recently joined an open source project which was very good because of what it did, but very poor because of its code structure. So I did a massive refactoring for it, making changes to hundreds if not thousands of lines. This took about an week, but it would have taken much more if I had written the application from the scratch.

      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by justinlee37 (993373) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:00AM (#26445595)

        lets have something to show for it that will still be useful in 80 years.

        You're neglecting present value theory and opportunity cost; if we can save people money by developing free software over the next 10 years, the money they saved and spent elsewhere will improve other parts of the economy, which could have longer-term benefits.

        Also, is ANYTHING still useful in 80 years? Cars, buildings, roads, all that stuff wears out and becomes obsolete after a long enough time.

        • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Thanshin (1188877) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:45AM (#26445783)

          Also, is ANYTHING still useful in 80 years?

          Investments in education.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Z00L00K (682162)

            Things like the theory of relativity is an algorithm that's very useful even today.

            And a piece of software is an algorithm, so no big deal there.

            You may have to rewrite it, but you don't have to re-research the basis for the algorithm.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Americano (920576)
            Well said. And I'm not sure why they aren't simply directing additional grant & funding money to researchers at educational institutions. That model has worked pretty well, why not keep on doing it?

            If a bunch of non-technical bureaucrats are going to start deciding what software should be written under the auspices of this program, I foresee $2Bn dollars going down the drain.

            Are there REALLY not enough universities around the country that have Comp. Science departments with unfunded (but innovat
        • Re:Open Source (Score:4, Interesting)

          by xaxa (988988) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:44AM (#26446151)

          Also, is ANYTHING still useful in 80 years? Cars, buildings, roads, all that stuff wears out and becomes obsolete after a long enough time.

          I use plenty of structures that are over 80 years old. I regularly use a bridge built in 1886, a railway (and associated bridges) built in 1838 (and a subway opened in 1889). It's harder to find dates for buildings, but they last hundreds of years if they are built properly and maintained. Many of them were built by private companies, but the economics of the last 50 years means no one wants to build a railway any more, but I expect the ones built by the government to still be useful in 80 years -- even if the track is useless, the clear routes through cities may well be useful.

          (Admittedly, the current stone bridge was built because the previous wooden bridge (built 1729) was obsolete, and wooden bridge was built because there was too much traffic for the ferry, which was running a service at least as early as 1086, and probably a lot earlier.)

          The expensive part of buildings, roads, railways, bridges etc is the construction (and land), if they're useful maintaining them isn't a problem.

          • Re:Open Source (Score:4, Insightful)

            by quanticle (843097) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:07PM (#26453353) Homepage

            The expensive part of buildings, roads, railways, bridges etc is the construction (and land), if they're useful maintaining them isn't a problem.

            Maybe maintenance isn't an issue for your stone bridge. But, for lots of bigger bridges (tunnels, roads, etc.), maintenance costs are certainly significant. Here in the US, we have many bridges and roads that have deteriorated to the point where they are barely serviceable, because cities, states, and the federal government focused on building flashy new structures rather than on maintaining the ones they already have.

            In fact, this is one of the concerns I have about Obama's plan for massive fiscal stimulus. I worry that the federal government will build even more infrastructure, further increasing an already punishingly high maintenance debt.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by // (81289)

          Also, is ANYTHING still useful in 80 years? Cars, buildings, roads, all that stuff wears out and becomes obsolete after a long enough time.

          I live in a house built in 1560. It's still very useful to me and my family. I make that about 448 years or 5.6 TIMES 80 years.

      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by turbidostato (878842) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:16AM (#26445653)

        "When you write some software [...] Things have a habit of being rewritten completely in relatively short intervals."

        When you write *privative* software, you meant. Privative software suffers from the "broken glass" problem: for the most part is redo what already was done, both among competing products and between versions of the same product (well, version shifting is more to add featuritis and in cases of dominant products both for vendor lock-in and to maintain third party/competing products at a distance). This is not usually the way with open source software.

        "How much of the code from Linux of even 15 years ago is in the current kernel?"

        Taking into account Linux is barely 15 y.o. not much, true. But there's indeed quite a lot of code that has been there for long years. And even then, you forget that even shifting code it there to allow third parties to cooperate.

        "How much of AutoCAD 1.0 is in the current version?"

        Privative software: at the very least one of the major differences among versions is changing file formats for lock-in and disallow competing products to stay at path. Not much benefit on this work for the users.

        "The code gets rewritten and forgotten."

        It is not. Minix is still used as a learning platform as it is with older versions of *BSDs. I bet that code from ls cp or a lot of basic Unix-related commands haven't changed for ages.

        "If we're going to spend unfathomable amounts of MY money, lets have something to show for it that will still be useful in 80 years."

        Nobody can forecast the future but, certainly, you will optimize your bets if such a software is open sourced.

      • Re:Open Source (Score:5, Insightful)

        by raju1kabir (251972) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:48AM (#26445795) Homepage

        I'm not so sure I agree. When you build a bridge or a dam, you get something tangible that will be with you for 30+ years. Its there, and you can use it until it is demolished or replaced. The Brooklyn bridge, the Hoover Dam, etc have been with us for a very long time.

        The roadbed and surfacing on the Brooklyn Bridge have been replaced countless times. It has been reconfigured to deal with a changing balance between road, rail, cycle, and pedestrian traffic. It has been repainted and seen the replacement of untold bolts, cables, struts, stanchions, gimlets, and both left and right phalanges.

        In the same way, software is gradually upgraded and remodeled and renovated over the years, but much of the underlying code that powers what we do on our computers today is still more or less verbatim from decades ago.

        So I really don't see the difference you're implying.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tacocat (527354)

        This proposal is flawed. Especially if you compare it to the New Deal.

        The infrastructure developed from the New Deal provided a tangible product which could be openly used by other segments of the economy and benefited far more. Roads affected the Automotive Industry and eventually the suburban sprawl and housing. Electrical networks, and others. And that's there the SuperHighway comparison ends.

        But the current idea of FOSS will be replacing software that generates a billion dollars in revenue from othe

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheSync (5291)

          The infrastructure developed from the New Deal provided a tangible product which could be openly used by other segments of the economy and benefited far more. Roads affected the Automotive Industry and eventually the suburban sprawl and housing.

          It should be noted that the Interstate Highway System [wikipedia.org] was not started until 1956.

          The CCC improved roads in public parks. The WPA did pave or repair 300,000 miles of road [washingtonpost.com], but keep in mind the US currently has 3.9 million miles of highway [bts.gov].

          New Deal spending is actual

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by RobBebop (947356)

        If we're going to spend unfathomable amounts of MY money, lets have something to show for it that will still be useful in 80 years.

        My preference to "paying the salaries of Open Source writers" would be a system for giving people income deductions if they contribute meaningfully to unfunded public projects (be they GPL development or be they performing free concerts in a public park).

        I've written about this in more detail here [metaphrast.com].

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thtrgremlin (1158085)
        So what you are saying is that progress always builds on the past? Wow, think you have just made a great argument for FlOSS, because the more we can keep track of past accomplishments, the less likely we will find ourselves reinventing the wheel.

        Honestly though, I am not sure if you are being serious or not. There are two things going on with the Kernel to my understanding in this context: Either new things come about, and support is added (old code doesn't change) or people examine the way something is
    • Watch the definition of Open Source getting brutally molested if there's government money available to subsidize its development.

      I would not be surprised to see a Microsoft "Open Source" license which requires use of Microsoft APIs or development tools, and/or restricts use to specific versions of Windows, and/or forbids building for or porting to non-Windows platforms, and/or forbids use of code excerpts under any other type of license. In other words, an OSS license which is the very antithesis of Apac

  • by rachit (163465) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:46AM (#26445255)

    I mean who didn't realize housing was in a bubble, besides paid economists with special interests or complete morons? It was blindingly obvious since 2005.

    I only credit anyone for calling exactly when it would completely implode. That took brains.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I only credit anyone for calling exactly when it would completely implode. That took brains.

      Or luck. After all, every day SOMEBODY wins the lottery. With 6.7 billion people in the world, the "1,000 monkeys randomly pushing typewriters" analogy becomes a lot more relevant.

      • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:26AM (#26445459) Homepage

        I only credit anyone for calling exactly when it would completely implode. That took brains.

        It was rather obvious to anyone who understands the fundamentals. I called it on Downside [downside.com] in 2004. I expected trouble sooner, around 2006. But the Fed cut rates, which merely postponed the inevitable and made it worse. Note that Baker also started predicting trouble in 2004.

        This stuff isn't really that hard. There are certain ratios that are grounded in reality. A house is worth about 2.5x to 3x annual income. Stock in a stable company is worth about 10x to 20x earnings. Whenever prices get above those upper limits, they can be expected to go down, and when they get way above those limits, it's a speculative bubble. All speculative bubbles eventually burst, because the supply of "greater fools" who will buy overpriced assets in hopes of selling them for even more is finite

        "The job of the Federal Reserve is to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going. -- William McChesney Martin,, head of the Federal Reserve from 1951 to 1970.

        "I still do not fully understand why it happened." Alan Greenspan, October 2008.

        • by khakipuce (625944) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @07:25AM (#26446865) Homepage Journal
          To all those people who "saw this coming" and new it was inevitable, did you bet everything you had on it? There was money to be made from the downturn and a lucky few did make money.

          Any one that did not bet their house on it is just being wise after the event. FACT, everyone knows that that level of growth is unsustainable - EVERYONE - the trick was in knowing whta would be the trigger for the collapse and when it would occur.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dgriff (1263092)

          "I still do not fully understand why it happened." Alan Greenspan, October 2008.

          I want to be irrationally exuberant again.

      • by Jurily (900488)

        With 6.7 billion people in the world, the "1,000 monkeys randomly pushing typewriters" analogy becomes a lot more relevant.

        Same goes for Open Source. Just take a look at some of the rejected patches.

    • I mean who didn't realize housing was in a bubble, besides paid economists with special interests or complete morons? It was blindingly obvious since 2005.

      CEPR (the thinktank of which Baker is a co-founder) was stalking the housing bust many years before 2005. His co-conspirator was trying to make a believer out of me back around the turn of the millennium when I lived in DC.

  • Possible Concerns (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DreamsAreOkToo (1414963) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:47AM (#26445257)

    I like FOSS, I like it a lot in fact. However, I still have some concerns about this.

    1) Would the overhead of allocating funds be greater than the reward? (always a question in government bullucracy)
    2) How would we be sure the right people get the money, and not 'fakes'?
    3) How do we make sure projects continue to be free after they stop getting government funding?

    Maybe these issues have been addressed, but most people will (or should) ask these questions, about ANY government subsidization/awards.

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      1, Shouldn't be, providing the software written is general enough... You wouldn't want people writing really niche stuff.... Speak to companies and individuals and find out where they spend most money on software, how they could save by using free software, and what they perceive as the barriers (ie missing features etc) to using the free alternatives.
      2, Pay people after they have achieved noticeable results... Especially if they contribute to existing OSS projects, have the existing developers judge the wo

    • Would the overhead of allocating funds be greater than the reward? (always a question in government bullucracy)

      Government spending is third parties (bureaucrats) spending other people's money (taxpayer's money) on still other people (beneficiaries) with little or no regard to profit or loss. This is the most wasteful and inefficient type of spending there is. The left likes to say that corporations don't do any better, but they ignore the main difference. If a corporation always loses money then it eventually folds (at least when governments don't bail them out, but that is a whole different gripe) and goes under. G

      • by Nietz2000 (1452445) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:07AM (#26445915)

        The US Government has been the primary investor in general research since WW2 and I would not consider it wasteful at all.

        They even pick the winners and losers. They allow the universities and academies to publish to the public and allocate spending where it will be most beneficial.

        The Government has done this because private corporations are not willing to pay for something you just give away free to the public, especially if that can be copied indefinitely (like research or software). Sure, it will grow the overall economy but the private company will be at a disadvantage.

        In this case, Government quite often is more efficient at growing productivity because everyone gets to use it. Private research is often secret or even intentionally restrictive.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Shotgun (30919)

          You are correct. So the prudent thing for the new administration to do is to look at things where government spending works, and concentrate on those.

          I have a friend that does air-control design. It goes a little beyond your basic HVAC, but involves quite a bit of it. He was around during the 70's/80's when the US Feds were giving out money for "solar heating" devices. He says that it got so ridiculous, you would see companies sticking a solar panel on a wood stove and calling it a solar heater. The go

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheSync (5291)

          The Government has done this because private corporations are not willing to pay for something you just give away free to the public

          The one counter-example are private Universities, which do spend their own money on publicly available basic research.

          (source [nsf.gov]) total basic research spending in universities in 2001 was $20.8 billion. $12.9 billion came from the Federal government, and $7.8 billion came from non-Federal sources.

          Institutional funds (e.g. university endowments) are the largest source of n

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by digitalunity (19107)
        I would like the feds to set up a grant program for corporations with noteworthy software programs willing to GPL/LGPL/BSD license their closed source programs and assign their relevant patents to public domain.

        Basically, the federal government would be "buying" the program from the corporation that developed it and the people would win. Eligibility would have to be determined by a broad spectrum panel of IT/CS professionals from business and academia and would be based on net benefit to the government a
  • by Thanshin (1188877) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:51AM (#26445281)

    Simply establishing the idea that a source code base is like physical infrastructure will benefit open source projects even more than the actual investment.

    Having that reality as a frame of reference would make it much easier to push for the growth of that source code infrastructure.

  • by fyoder (857358) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:54AM (#26445307) Homepage Journal

    In addition to employing programmers, 'the savings [to consumers] in the United States alone could easily exceed the cost of supporting software development.'"

    Sure, but what about Microsoft, or Adobe, or various other companies that make software? Won't this be competing directly with them? It's bad enough that they have to compete with FOSS as is, but FOSS supercharged with two billion government dollars?

    Surely the sensible thing to do would be to give the money directly to Microsoft and Adobe and the like. You wouldn't bail out the auto industry by giving money to custom car builders, nor the banking industry by giving money to loan sharks.

    Kidding, of course. But I'll bet there will be corporations that won't be thrilled by this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432)

      I would say the money could be much better spent on R&D. Buying patents and opening up technology to the public to use.

      FOSS projects might create... I actually don't have any idea what area they could invest in which would be useful... but opening up patents on the other hand allows both FOSS projects and commercial projects create jobs with a lot less overhead.

      Let's say I open up a patent on an algorithm that's sitting idle. Now that' it's open you have people putting their own money on the line to i

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lwsimon (724555)

        nationalize patents and license them for free to your citizens

        Maybe I'm reading too far into this, but say what!?

        You're telling me the best way to increase productivity it to take the properties of the knowledge workers who have been most productive, and give it to those who aren't as productive? What incentive do people have to invent and patent anything now?

    • There will always be corporations/people that won't be thrilled by the [lack of] an action.

      Also, Microsoft and Adobe do not make a lot of software for the consumer market. Most of their software is way to overpowered for consumers. You don't need Photoshop for drawing or photo editing. There are enough gratis products that can do all that an average consumer wants to do. Same thing with MS Word, most people don't get any further than some text, an image, and maybe a table or two.

    • by rlanctot (310750) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:28AM (#26445463)

      "Sure, but what about Microsoft, or Adobe, or various other companies that make software? Won't this be competing directly with them? It's bad enough that they have to compete with FOSS as is, but FOSS supercharged with two billion government dollars?"

      Isn't capitalism supposed to be based on a free market economy? I'm sure that the government hires Adobe and Microsoft to work on software projects they don't readily talk about, doesn't that compete with FOSS software? Seems to me corporate America is all for the free market economy except when it's not to their favor.

      • by kaizokuace (1082079) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:31AM (#26445715)

        Seems to me corporate America is all for the free market economy except when it's not to their favor.

        Since when does corporate America follow some sort of ideology? It's in favor of business to never play fair. Being unfair is inherently to your advantage!

        • Being unfair is inherently to your advantage!

          Spoken like someone who has never owned a business, but this can be shown to be false even in abstraction. Consider the iterated prisoner's dilema [wikipedia.org] game where the optimal strategy is actually tit for tat and NOT always being unfair. Business is like the iterated prisoner's dilema, if you constantly screw over every customer, supplier, and even competitors then you will be retaliated against until no longer in business. If what you said was true then the world would be completely run by the biggest assholes w

      • In a perfectly efficient, competitive market, profit goes to zero. Obviously companies don't want that, so it's in their interest to work against the establishment of a free-market economy.

      • by Xiroth (917768)

        The fact is, it's impossible to beat the government in competition, because the government doesn't need to make a profit. This is why government corporations always need to be stimulatory, filling a niche that no private company will fill, or filling a natural monopoly market (where the advantages of capitalism disappear).

        Publicly funded FOSS might work, but it should be carefully guided - rather than directly competing in fields with already decent competition, grants would need to be issued in fields wher

    • by jesterzog (189797)

      For what it's worth, both Adobe[1] [adobe.com] and Microsoft[2] [microsoft.com] work on a variety of Open Source projects (for some definition of open source), which I'm sure they could convince the relevant people are worthy of funding under whatever scheme might be proposed. And if they get government money to fund their open source labs, I guess they can potentially divert more of their open source lab money into closed source projects.

      All of this would depend upon the terms of which a grant is given out, though, and none of the

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Nothing forbids Microsoft and Adobe to get government money for developing FOSS
    • by Bert64 (520050)

      These companies are based around the goal of harvesting a large amount of wealth and locking it up in a small place... In the case of something so easily written and distributed as software, combined with intentional anti-customer actions like creating lock-in means that this is actually very bad for everyone but the original company.

      The government has a duty to all of it's people, and if you can't suit everyone (which is virtually impossible) they should aim to suit the majority. Of course, money talks and

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by silentcoder (1241496)

      By that logic, the government should stop funding cancer research by universities because it may directly compete with drug companies ?

  • New Deal? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:55AM (#26445311) Homepage

    or should we just call it the "Great Leap Forward". I mean, the Federal Gov seems to think money and wealth can be created with the stroke of a pin and all will be well. Right? Nevermind the fact central planning will lead to another "bridge to no where" on a colossal scale!

    • or should we just call it the "Great Leap Forward"

      Well, we aren't being forced to wear identical Mao jackets or being marched out into the countryside to grow basic foodstuffs with hand tools and ox carts while cheap loudspeakers shout slogans like, "Twenty years progress in a single day!". So it hasn't exactly reached the dire level of an American Cultural Revolution, at least not yet anyway.

  • by PhantomHarlock (189617) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @02:57AM (#26445319)

    How would you decide who gets the money? Would you need to demonstrate suitable skill in coding first? There should be some sort of filtering criteria so the money isn't thrown away, especially since you are redistributing other people's wealth.

    Perhaps some type of competition format for ideas would do best. Various private companies such as Google have done this, I believe.

    • by Alyeska (611286)
      The competition angle has been pretty successful for DARPA, too....
    • by Bert64 (520050)

      Have people contribute towards existing well known projects, have the existing developers judge the submissions, including assessing the quality of the code to judge who is worthy of being paid to write more.

  • I have faith that something so logical could be implemented, in this day and age. Those with the power to support this simply won't be comprehend the simplicity of such a plan. I mean, seems like the worse case scenario in said plan would be a set of coders end up spending way too much money of soda, video games, and geek toys.

  • by Alyeska (611286) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:08AM (#26445369) Homepage
    ...would just use this as a wedge issue, further "proof" of Obama's "socialism," and Obama has been going out of his way to avoid wedge issues. I think he knows that he can rule, but can't be effective, with a 51% majority.
    As much as I love the entire open source movement, I don't think it would ever fly, politically, in our current culture.
    • by lwsimon (724555) <lyndsy@lyndsysimon.com> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @09:46AM (#26448269) Homepage Journal

      US Presidents aren't "rulers."

      What the hell has happened to this country?

  • by symbolset (646467) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @03:42AM (#26445515) Journal

    FOSS software increases productivity. It reduces overhead and costs. The evolution of free software reduces the demand for programming and support labor in the long term.

    This is not good for the economy. Our economy is hopelessly reliant on unskilled twits who can barely keep our infrastructure running; who spend many hours increasing the problem rather than diminishing it, and who get paid a good wage doing that so they can buy the latest Plasma TV and show off to their friends their XBox skillz in HiDef. If everybody converted to Linux and BSD in the server room, there's another quarter million MCSEs out of work. Imagine all the servers that won't need to be updated on Patch Tuesday and Surprise Thursday! It'll be utter anarchy! Some servers won't be rebooted for months.

    This is bad... for Obama.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by El Lobo (994537)

      FOSS software increases productivity. It reduces overhead and costs. The evolution of free software reduces the demand for programming and support labor in the long term.

      That all sounds incredibly politically correct, and yes, you can repeat it ad nauseum and it will become one of those myths that people just repeat and repeat because it sounds , oh so good and logical. However there is absolutely no scientific base that confirms (or refute, for that matter) these claims, so please stop stating this as t

    • by dangitman (862676) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:18AM (#26445659)

      there's another quarter million MCSEs out of work.

      Simple solution: Soylent Green.

  • all code must be written in ADA.
  • Paying good programmers to develop Open Source software would be a brilliant and very, very effective use of taxpayer dollars. You get "the gift that keeps on giving", because people who want to work on a project for nothing after the funding phase is over can keep making improvements. For example: project Dogwaffle isn't PhotoShop, but it's pretty damned good, and it's not going to cost you half a grand every time you want to get the next version. It would also be possible to mandate software that run

  • by crf00 (1048098) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:13AM (#26445639) Homepage

    Notice how open source is supposed to work the same way as scientific research does? Both of them requires socialism economics in order to work well.

    Look at scientific research for example, you pour a large amount of money into it, but you can't sell the results of your research. You can only see the impact of your research, if any, a couple of years after some companies see the commercial value of your research and decided to use it.

    Look at LHC for example, is there any commercial value for investing such large amount of money for the research? No. How about research on nature and species in a certain natural ecosystem? Other than probably selling the video to few people who are interested and willing to pay, I don't see much commercial value in such research.

    So then think about it, why on earth can such research still exist today? If the world is under pure capitalism, nobody is going to spend any money to support these research. Instead, you need a socialism model to support the research.

    The current socialism model to support research is to gather a pool of fund from a large group of people, and distribute the resource to everyone in a centralised way. Our pool of resource may be from university, which is paid by university students or sponsored by government. Or the resource may be directly from government, which acts as a pool of fund from the taxpayers.

    Hence in some way, everyone in a nation contributes a tiny fraction of money to the research institution. The results of the research would then get contributed back to the society and benefits everyone.

    In fact, tax is a kind of socialism that solves problem of requiring tiny fraction of resource from huge amount of people. A country with 100% socialism is just meaning a country with 100% tax.

    So compare this with open source, what's the different? If you divide the cost of development with the number of people who benefit, everyone is supposed to pay a very small amount of money.

    The current difficulties of open source is that there is actually no way to collect this small amount of money from everyone, and thus open source projects usually require small number of people to donate for most of the cost, while all other people becomes freeriders.

    I believe that in order for open source projects to grow in a healthy way, a socialism model for open source has to be established, and we have to have a pool of fund to support the projects. And currently, the only kind of pool of fund I can think of is from the government.

    • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:50AM (#26445805)
      As a matter of fact I think open source is a triumph of Socialism. Hitherto, compilers cost a fortune, UNIX distributions even more. You had to buy such software from a capitalist - or more likely, be employed by a capitalist who could afford it. The GNU project put the means of production in the hands of the workers, allowing us to enjoy the fruits of our labour ourselves.
    • The fundamentals of socialism is about who owns and controls the capital in the means of production. In a capitalist system it is individuals - in the socialist system it is the state.

      Now whatever you say about this investment in OSS, you can't say it's socialism unless the state expects a measure on control of the OSS projects, which they are not.

      One can say that this is government intervention in free market capitalism - and the free market capitalist will, true to form, roll out the "Socialism" bogeyman

  • It would be a pretty bad way of stimulating the economy. If you're pouring billions of taxpayers money into developing software that's then provided for free. This would put a lot of small software houses out of business. Why should a company pay for your software when this government produced piece of software had 10 times the budget and is available for free?

    If a supermarket that's vital for a community is struggling and at risk of closing, forcing it to cut back on staff, you wouldn't help things by op

    • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:29AM (#26445707)
      The NIH has driven all the drug companies and medical equipment companies out of business, hasn't it?

      Your example is bad. A supermarket is a consumer, not a producer. Now let me give you a real example, one I know something about.

      Years ago, there were many companies making marine engines. They were typically very bespoke and very expensive, and though they were very solidly built they were not terribly reliable. Then what happened was consolidation. Volume manufacturers appeared who produced limited ranges of engines that were much cheaper and, because R&D was amortised over high volume, much more reliable - companies like Kubota, Mitsubishi, Mercedes, Volvo. So the small manufacturers went bust, didn't they?

      Of course not. They simply absorbed the high volume engines into their product range. They took the core engines and used their marinising parts to provide a range of options for different applications, which they could now do more cheaply. They focussed on services and added value. Because they did not have to have lots of capital tied up in core engine production, they had lower financial risk. The reduction in cost is one reason for the explosion in the powerboat market.

      Same thing for software. Most small companies do not run by making core services. They survive on supplying special markets. Common core software allows them to focus their expertise on the added value in those markets. Because the vertical market software now has a lower cost basis, more people can afford it. The market grows. The company has a more diversified customer base so it has to do more customisation. This absorbs the resources that were once trying to maintain the invisible code.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:22AM (#26445677) Homepage

    There are no limits to what Microsoft, companies like Microsoft and their supporters would do to prevent that from happening.

    I have often wondered what sort of chaos would ensue if the plight of the "big 3 auto" were shared by Microsoft. It could upset employment at all levels of the economy. The ripples of the effect would be global. But in the end, I believe people and business would simply work around the issue if Microsoft simply failed and ceased to be. I think that perhaps the overall effect would be somewhere between three and four times as annoying as the latest daylight savings time changes. But people would move off of Microsoft Windows because the platform would just be too unsafe to work with.

    One way or another, people will eventually find that Microsoft isn't as "necessary" as they currently believe. Ultimately, when you break down computing and data processing to what needs they serve, it is easy to see that just about anything will do. The biggest problem is getting over people's natural fear of the unknown. Microsoft is all that most people know and so anything else is to be feared and avoided. But when shoved into the water, people will swim.

    Publicly funded F/OSS software projects would show the world that Microsoft isn't as necessary as they currently believe. Microsoft would pull no stops in preventing that from happening and I would even go so far as to say they would collectively hold the value of no single life above the interests of their business and business model.

  • nope (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nicklott (533496) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:45AM (#26445785)

    the savings [to consumers] in the United States alone could easily exceed the cost of supporting software development

    Capitalist economics doesn't work like that. Money that consumers don't spend doesn't contribute to GDP, but money they do spend does, and GDP is the magic number (remember, we're all happier when the numbers go up).

    This highlights why OSS won't be a pillar of Obama's spending spree. Microsoft sell software made by developers they pay and these developers then spend their pay on other software (say). This moves money round the economy continuously and makes the GDP look great. Paying a developer to create a free piece of software is effectively a one off payment and doesn't contribute to GDP much (it mainly increases coffee consumption), in fact all it does really is inflate government spending/borrowing.

    The end result for the user is clearly better in the second case, but better for the "economy" in the first. If you want the government to choose what's better for the user at the expense of the "economy", well, I guess you'd better move to Canada or one of those other commie countries cos it won't happen in the US of A.

    • Re:nope (Score:5, Informative)

      by AceJohnny (253840) <.jlargentaye. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @06:49AM (#26446599) Journal

      Capitalist economics doesn't work like that. Money that consumers don't spend doesn't contribute to GDP, but money they do spend does, and GDP is the magic number (remember, we're all happier when the numbers go up).

      That's actually the broken window fallacy [wikipedia.org]. If someone breaks your window, they're helping the economy because you will then spend money to buy a new window and pay a worker to install it for you.

      But actually what's happening is that resources that would go into something productive for the economy get diverted to replacing something previously existent, thus reducing economic growth.

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @04:58AM (#26445859) Homepage Journal

    Why all these comparisons to the New Deal? It didn't work. If it wasn't for WW2 we would never have gotten out of it. All we got in eight years was government debt and unemployment did not change. Sorry but this use it for FOSS is simply pie in the sky type crap. Why? Because those who actually implement it will not have any relation to those in the community. It will simply route money to schools, after all they can do this just fine and they need the money as well as the computers.

    No, instead of spending the money by the government why not let those who actually earn it decide what to do with it? Give all those who pay income tax a tax holiday. This will do two things, one is to allow the working American to spend his money where he wants thereby focusing the bailout on businesses that matter to the earners as show them just how much a burden the government truly is.

    • by Nietz2000 (1452445) on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @05:33AM (#26446073)

      WW2 was the New Deal on steroids. The Government quite literally quadrupled spending and took full control of the economy, even to the point of regulating wages and dictating output. If you want to argue WW2 pulled the US out of the Depression, then you're just saying the New Deal was too small.

      The GI Bill created the most educated workforce on the planet and paid for 60% of all University graduates. Poverty among the elderly was reduced by 80%. Home ownership and the middle class was created in just a few years from the New Deal. It was a huge success.

      You're also ignoring the rest of the world. As each country implemented Keynesian policies, their economies quickly recovered. The US was just one of the last to join the party.

      There are no mainstream free-market Austrian economists anymore... they died out. Even Bush's economists are New-Deal Keynesians.

      • by tjstork (137384) <todd...bandrowsky@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 14, 2009 @08:58AM (#26447671) Homepage Journal

        WW2 was the New Deal on steroids.

        WW2 was certainly a huge capital outlay, and brought people to work, but let's not forget some basic things:

        a. WW2 took place 9 years after Roosevelt was elected. He had nearly a decade of New Deal to end the Depression and really didn't accomplish anything.

        b. We are already in a war, two of them actually, and the economy still sucks. IF we wanted to raise the military budget to 6T a year, we would have WWII levels of spending on the military, and, what would that accomplish?

        c. The prosperity of US postwar had more to do with the total destruction of American industrial rivals. Even GB, our ally, was so bankrupted by the war that she hit the skids. Continental Europe and Japan were destroyed, and the damage caused to Russia by the German invasion was so severe it doomed Russia to be a third world economy for decades afterwards. USA economy has been in relative decline as each of these players rebuilt and retooled.

        You're also ignoring the rest of the world. As each country implemented Keynesian policies, their economies quickly recovered

        IT was Keynesian policies they implemented, it was classic mercantilism, protecting their own industries as much as possible to let them rebuild, while selling their goods to the USA. This dysfunctional world economy has persisted for 60 years. First it depleted USA gold reserves so that in the 1970s the USA floated the dollar. Then, it depleted USA dollars so that in the 1980s the USA began borrowing, and then, when Bush finally pulls the plug on the whole damned thing by lowering the dollar, we're left with an economy that is reflective of what it really is, a large economic power with a bunch of smaller, but capable, economic powers, and a bunch of goods and a so-called free trading system that is actually irrationally priced due to the junkie's desire to keep the postwar ball rolling.

        No more.

        Americans aren't going to tolerate the economic dislocation and fiscal ruin caused by all the imports, and finally, you are going to have to see USA's trading partners actually construct meaningful domestic demand on their end, while at the same time the USA will have to build more of what it needs and stop treating the developing world as so much indentured servants.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by washort (6555)

        There are no mainstream free-market Austrian economists anymore

        Hell, there never were any, depending on how you define mainstream. Even Mises himself, while allowed to call himself a "visiting professor" at New York University, never got paid to do so. Economists who say that governments can help business best by mostly leaving it alone tend to not get paid very much. No surprise, since the government and government-sponsored universities tend to be the major employer of economists.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheSync (5291)

          There are no mainstream free-market Austrian economists anymore

          I don't know what you mean by this, but every economist still reads Mises and Hayek, and I haven't seen someone refute the Socialist Calculation problem identified by Hayek. There are minor differences between Monetarists and Austrians (and the more honest of both sides agree that inflation is a monetary issue but that can also inter-react with distortionary over-investment in sectors).

          The Austrians are actually claiming that the housing bubble

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sgtrock (191182)
        Long, protracted wars are nearly always bad for an economy, though, as we've known for thousands of years:

        He who wishes to fight must first count the cost. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor dampened, your str

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheSync (5291)

        WW2 was the New Deal on steroids. The Government quite literally quadrupled spending and took full control of the economy, even to the point of regulating wages and dictating output.

        WW2 "fixed" the unemployment problem by putting millions of American men to work at gunpoint (the draft).

        WW2 also enhanced the US export market by destroying the main competition, Western Europe (of course, pre-war trade was destroyed by the Depression-era global trade war).

        WW2 ended "regime uncertainty" [independent.org] in the United States wi

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Wildclaw (15718)

      Why all these comparisons to the New Deal? It didn't work

      It worked incredibly well. Unfortunally FDR was relativly conservative which made the depression last longer than it should have. His biggest misstake being the budget balancing in 1937 that immediatly sent the country into a second recession. Fortunally, he corrected the mistake by increasing the efforts again.

      All we got in eight years was government debt

      The goverment debt/GNP 1933: ~40%
      The goverment debt/GNP 1941: ~40%

      unemployment did not change

      Unemployment (using Darby figures which includes those involved in work efforts)

      1933: 20.6%
      1937: 9.1%
      1938: 12.5%
      1941: 8.0%

      The unadjus

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TheSync (5291)

        His biggest misstake being the budget balancing in 1937 that immediatly sent the country into a second recession.

        Obviously balancing a budget can't send a country into a recession in itself (or the US would have been in a recession in 1998). Raising taxes or reducing spending might. As it happens, Congress passed the Undistributed Profits Tax [wikipedia.org] in 1936.

        There are other competing theories on 1937: the Fed doubled bank reserve requirements in 1937; scary talk by FDR in April, 1937; the economy feeling the full

  • He may be a clever guy with a good idea but he totaly misunderstands how democracy 2.0 works in hte U.S.

    Voters are largly irrelevant in Dem 2.0, The suckers vote for whoever has the best TV adds.

    Therefore what really matters are the campaign contributors so you can by better and more TV adds than your rivals.

    The best contibutors are big businesses and the people who own big businesses. So if you get elected you need to keep these people happy and ensure the funds keep coming your way. MS, Oracle etc. are al

That does not compute.

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