While I was at ApacheCon, I had an interesting conversation with a newspaper reporter. Presumably, he was interviewing me. He had been assigned this Free Open Source Software thing, and was very new to the concept, and trying to understand what it was about.
We were talking about the fact that FOSS allows countries like Sri Lanka to build software businesses, with very little startup cost, that could legitimately compete with Microsoft, at least for business outside of the USA. It also allows these non-USA countries to be, as much as possible, independent from the USA for their information/computer/software industry.
I talked about how, in particular, I’m very interested in African nations being able to stop sending millions of dollars a year to Redmond, Washington, but be able to keep those dollars in their own country, paying local programmers, investing in local businesses.
It was at this point that the reporter observed that I was being very unpatriotic in promoting FOSS to developing nations.
This was a very interesting notion to me. I wonder if it’s accurate. However, I don’t think so. I think that being monopolistic, as a nation, is unpatriotic. Allowing the rest of the world to suffer, economically, in order to promote our own economy, is unpatriotic. Sure, it may seem patriotic, but that’s a grossly short-term vision. Because at some point, we kill our markets by forcing them into poverty. And, too, pushing other nations into poverty has unintended side effects. Like, for example, we end up exporting all of our jobs, rather than all of our products, because labor is so much cheaper elsewhere.
It turns out that if we make everyone wealthier, we make everyone wealthier. But if we make everyone poorer, we make everyone poorer. The spiral goes both ways, and our foreign policy had more influence on the direction than we like to think about. If we continue to force the spiral to go down, rather than up, at some point, some other nation (like, say, China) is going to decide that enough is enough, and that we’re far too irresponsible to be allowed to have that kind of power anymore.
So, no, I don’t think I’m being unpatriotic. I think I’m thinking globally, and long term, and that folks who try to frame FOSS as being communist and unpatriotic are being myopic.
More than once in the last two weeks, I have heard someone quip as follows:
When we were kids, our mothers said “eat your vegetables, some kid in China would love to have them.” Now we say to our kids “do your homework, some kid in India wants your job.”
I find this us-vs-them mentality to be grossly short-sighted. Until we can learn to cooperate on a global scale, we’re dooming our kids to a future of economic downturns and wars.