Saturday, December 25, 2010

Capitalism Opposes Progress

No, not all progress. And it can be a very powerful engine for innovation. But there is progress it opposes. In particular, scarcity, or rather, the end of it.

Capitalism requires scarcity to work. If you have unlimited amounts of something, its supply is infinite, and its value is 0. No one would pay for something they can just effortlessly pick off of a tree. And because you can't make a profit off of it, capitalism will never attempt to end scarcity, and will oppose anyone who does.

And it has. Even though we don't have the technology to end physical scarcity (Well, not completely anyway. If it weren't for stupid political situations, we could easily feed every human on the planet.), there's no reason we can't end digital scarcity. Any kind of digital information is just a string of 1s and 0s and can be copied infinitely, for free. But capitalist forces such as the RIAA oppose that kind of thing tooth and nail.

The only reason that someone who wants it shouldn't be able to get it for free is that the person who made it couldn't get paid. I'm not saying that that person shouldn't get compensated for their effort, but the capitalist model clearly isn't be the most efficient way. And sometimes, people aren't looking for compensation. Look at the open source movement. People make programs and then give them away for free. Hell, that's what I did with AlDraw.

Although the end of physical scarcity seems like science fiction now, I don't see why it would be impossible, and technology like RepRap is gradually taking us in that direction. But if Star Trek style replicators were invented tomorrow, they'd encounter exactly the same resistance that digital copying does today.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to think about how captalism can or should deal with digital scarcity. The idea of "stealing" music or other digital goods has always struck me as a misuse of the word: if I steal a TV from you, it means I have a TV and you don't anymore, whereas if I "steal" an MP3 file from you, you still have it. All you've lost is an artifically-determined amount of money that you imagine you should be entitled to receive in exchange for me having it too. Not quite the same thing.

    But with that being said, I understand that it takes resources to make movies and music and complex software and such -- if not resources in the form of money, at least resources in the form of people able and willing to devote their time to a project. I'm not really sure what the perfect solution is.