There was a fable about a group of blind men who examined an elephant, and each, by his individual examination of some part of the animal, drew highly biased conclusions about the nature of an elephant, assortedly determining that:
An elephant is like a very smelly rope (based on the tail)
An elephant is like a tree trunk (based on a leg)
An elephant is like a brick wall (based on the side)
An elephant is like a hose (based on the trunk)
Elephants and economies are not entirely dissimilar; both are, in their unique ways, large "beasts" on which it is difficult to get good perspective, particularly for those with poor vision. In early 2001, the company Nortel Networks has gone through great difficulties, and investors have watched stock prices fall alarmingly whilst tens of thousands of employees have been laid off. In Ottawa, a place where Nortel is highly active, this is publicly perceived as being dismaying and a giant economic disaster. There is also the legitimate perspective that Nortel represents only a tiny fraction of the economy, and there are other economic sectors which are doing well, despite the "doom and gloom" in the press over Nortel.
Economies provide further challenges to one's vision, when you consider that "an economy" represents the aggregation of the actions of all the participants. These actions are not all readily visible:
There are so many actions and actors that usefully understanding what has happened may be impractical because there is too much data to digest.
The actions that are publicly seen represent mere "snapshots" that can provide only limited insight into the reasons the actions took place.
Some economic actors are deliberately secretive, not wishing for their actions to be known or understood.
This doesn't forcibly represent nefarious intent. For instance, when "big deals" are being negotiated, negotiators tend to keep the details private, only presenting the final results.
In the free software community, the same, often enough, holds true. Eric Raymond, self-proclaimed speaker for "Open Source," has held closed-door meetings with organizations considering "Open Source" releases, and only the final results, when positive, have been announced.
In order for a blind man to understand what an elephant is like, it is necessary to look at the various valid views, and trying to construct a picture based on those views.
Coming up with an overall understanding of the behaviour of an economy requires looking at it from different perspectives, and trying to understand what insights those perspectives provide.
"Free Software" is assortedly accused and praised for being:
Good for America
Bad for America
Inevitably destined to displace proprietary software
Doomed to be displaced by proprietary software
Most of these assertions have, from one perspective or another, some merit. ("Bad for America" is probably the one with the weakest economic evidence of the bunch.)
None of these qualities is sufficiently complete in its expression as to be fully representative of the "true" nature of free software and its economic effects.
To be written...
To be written...
To be written...
Whatever you may consider the merits/demerits of the ideas of Karl Marx to be, one thing is certain: Few, if any of the states that have called themselves "communist" have gotten terribly near to what he was talking about.
In its original conception, communist revolutions were considered to be "natural" consequences of the development of nations as they progress from an agrian feudalism to a "capitalist" process of industrialization, that to be naturally followed by a transformation to communism as a way of allocating physical goods.
Once the revolution occurred, the resulting State would find itself unnecessary, and wither away into irrelevance.
This has obviously not happened; the nations that have called themselves "communist" have seen the State hold on tenaciously, tending not only to not "wither away," but rather grow in its intrusiveness in the affairs of the people.
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