The Invisible Hand

David Johnson david at
Sat Sep 29 01:16:23 UTC 2001

A micro-essay:

For years the Free Software community emphasized freedom. When the Open 
Source Initiative started, it emphasized pragmatism instead. One side accuses 
the other of abandoning morality, and the other counters back about people 
having their heads in the clouds. The pundits on both sides have stipulated a 
choice between morality and pragmatism. If you wanted to be moral you sided 
with the FSF, and if you wanted to be practical you sided with the OSI.

But there is an "invisible hand" at work here that makes this distinction 
meaningless. In his "Wealth of Nations", Adam Smith observed a phenomena he 
called the invisible hand. The phenomena is that the actions of selfish 
individuals interact to create altruistic results for the group. In economic 
terms, immoral grocers feed poor families just as much as moral grocers do.

In software licensing terms, the pragmatic developers release software every 
bit as free as the moral developers. And the moral developers release 
software that is as practical as the pragmatic developers release. There is 
no point in condemning one side as being cold-hearted, or the other as overly 
idealistic. The end result for the users is the same.

Practicality leads to moral results, and morality leads to practical results. 
Open Source is free and Free Software is open. There is no need to divide 
this community up into factions.

David Johnson
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