Economics and Open Source

My major pain point with OSS Sustainability is that people who write open source code (including me) are not compensated. What is that compensation? Let me tell you a story that in 2010 I didn’t even know what that means. In my post-soviet country there was only the word “salary” to describe the money you get.

Using the word compensation was a great step forward to speak with my employers that I don’t see the time that I spent in their company as a blessing, and the money is there to compensate me for the loss of time and/or interest. I never had to lie to people that their company is awesome. The collaboration was awesome as long as I could do something useful for them, and the money compensate me the time. The money that I could then put to my own ideas and projects. My motivation was to be useful, and while I was useful, their wanted to keep my by compensating my time.

For the compensation I got I thought to hire people to solve things that do not move, because I am busy. That didn’t really work.

For every $1000 I got, I paid $500 in taxes and $300 was food and living expenses. $200 was left to give to other people to solve my itches. And from those $200 they will also pay taxes, subtract food and living expenses, and will not survive.

def free_from_one(salary):
  """returns free resources left after serving one person needs"""
  after_tax = salary * 0.5
  after_rent = after_tax - 300
  return after_rent

Now what will happen if I use that free $200 to hire a person to work for me?

>>> my = free_from_one(1000)
>>> my
200.0
>>> others = free_from_one(my)
>>> others
-200.0

The next person will get $200 in debts. It will take two full time me to be able to hire somebody else. Maybe I could just donate the money to people who are already doing worthy that closes my itches. $200 for a donation is awesome. Did I donate it? No. I was living with my parents. I needed a space to live. I wanted to travel. Ten years later I finally have my own room in soviet time apartments. Could I spent my compensation to make the life of other Open Source artist like me less miserable? No.

Is it really humane to require one sacrifice to help other live? This is exactly what needs to happen when we, as Open Source developers try to support each other. The alternative is when we are not really take the money out of our pocket. Because that money has many different purposes. Which purpose should you withdraw your money from? Should it be the “pension” stuff, the “entertainment” or “meeting with friends”, maybe “travel”? Well, I did donate to a few purposes one time, but it is “not sustainable” as we discuss it here.

The alternative was born in the crypto community. If you just print the money, you can distrubute them using different algorithms. Not only the market gameplay from 1930, which is also, if you think about it, not really The Market Economics. If market could solve all problems, there won’t be taxes that are forcefully taken to support the infrastructure. This is how it works in the “no internet” era. In 2020 we could have a mining farm that is transparent enough to distributed over to projects and people to support them. Not to let them earn or compensate. Just let them do what they do best. Supporting them as artists, not as entrepreneurs.

There will be fights for the funding. Lots of people trying to get in and fail, disappointing and trying again, or leaving forever to be employed as an open source consumers. Or hacking accounts to get that flow. Everything can happen. I feel kind of sad writing these things. Because getting the stable and transparent flow means you can not get higher, and maybe that flow won’t be enough, or there will be people who are more talented to deserve to be in, but they are not. In any case guessing that is not useful. The point of this post is to give the idea of Computational Economics based on calculating necessary capacity of resources to extract from current Economics to sustain each other. Because in that current Economics there is no place for Open Source models. The good thing here is that COVID and Climate crises already made people think that something is in current Economics is broken.

Economics is about observing and calculating things, so that we can draft a better gameplay how to survive or life on this planet. Open source makes things transparent. That means observable, and I think the Open Source community can do the Economics much better than people who increasingly afraid to go public and online. If you’re not comfortable with the definition of Economics I gave, I can only refer to the “Doughnut Economics” book by Kate Raworth to get some background, and stop thinking that Economics is just for educated people with degrees. Many of open source developers do not have formal CS education, and that’s why I think open source people could also do Economics better if they share and work together.

To sum up and ground this. I would like to see real data with visualization for transparency, how much do we need, how much do we spend, and how to compensate all of that. The software, not the theory. Even if it will take the whole planet to simulate.