Open source software and economic inequality

Open source software offers Governments the opportunities to build the knowledge economy and built it inclusively.

The World Economic Forum roadshow is back in town again. Economic experts on sponsored trips with generous expense accounts check into the beach front hotels amid fan fair and flashing cameras. They are offering us more advice than President Trump gets. Exotic terms like “inclusive growth”, “forth industrial revolution”, “knowlege economy” and “radical economic transformation” punctuate the jostling for the microphone and orders for more cocktails. Sadly these terms are only descriptions of the problem. Credible solutions are far harder to come by. Good intention, parties galore but not a coder to be seen.

Those of you that follow the #rollerballeconomy know that my view of the future is much darker than popular economists are willing to admit. Proposing that the golden age of employment is behind us will win you few friends or invitations to speak at conferences. “Inclusive growth” is an oxymoron. Modern manufacturing and distribution is a capital intensive business. Jobless growth is inevitable. The restriction on a nation or corporation gaining wealth is capital not labor. It is heretical to suggest that capital investment in machines is more productive than investment in people because favoring capital increases inequality. Bashing the boogeyman won't help. Technology is a runaway train. It replaces human thought with code.

Open source software it not a silver bullet but it does offer a way to slow the onset of the rollerball economy and reduce inequality.

Investment in open source software, means all citizens can have access to these knowledge assets. Investment in proprietary software has the opposite effect, the majority become excluded from access to this knowledge and it serves only the narrow interests of the purchaser and seller of the software. There are real reasons why proprietary software prevails. The first is that proprietary software is usually sold by a member of the 1%, and they will give you 500 reasons and incentives why paying them is better than developing or implementing a free solution. The sellers of proprietary system have the will, the guile and the attention span to ensure you adopt their solution. I know this because I am one of them.

Yet this is not all. It cannot be ignored that there is a cost to implementing open source software. These costs are real cash and the external multiplier benefits elusive. In a private software purchase,very few people have the philanthropic inclination to spend money on developing or implementing an open solution. There truly are cases where a proprietary solution is the cheaper and safer option. There is little profit driven argument to make your investment openly available. In the case of packaged software, users that are used to proprietary packages jump like a cat on a leash when you try to make them change to an unfamiliar open source solution. 

in the case of Government expenditure, the short term logic breaks down. Even though the open source solution may be more expensive in the short run, the multiplier effect of giving your citizens access to this knowledge asset far outstrips the immediate benefit of solving today's process problem. Todays development inconvenience is tomorrows knowledge assets. A short cut today can lead to slavery tomorrow.

Where I live, in the southern corner of Africa, we were recently help up at the end of a technical gun in the payments of social grants to the poorest of the worlds people. Court rulings and incrimination could not stop a mafia style software heist. Our Government created a proprietary solution to pay out 17 Million social grants and allowed a proprietary software silo to rise as the solution. The system was unlawfully abused. The loss to the country has been Billions. All of this could have been averted if an open source solution had been chosen. Instead of a thriving knowledge hub of payments processing we left instead with a ransom demand.

The knowledge economy presents a small light in the enveloping  darkness of endemic unemployment. Governments should compel their IT buyers to #chooseopensource.

In economies with high unemployment, particularly high youth unemployment, the knowledge economy offers a basement  in a hurricane. Radical economic transformation is best served by making software capital available to as wide a sector as you can. 



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