Free Information Free Software and Revolution
Free Information Free Software and Revolution
The purpose of this article is to put forward a thesis about a general tendency of what is coming worldwide in the near future in political terms, how it is going to come about, and what revolutionaries should do to promote the changes and to shed light about the best way to proceed. We foresee the generalization of political turmoil, and actual revolutions of various sorts, all over the world, specially in places where people have access to the Internet and to alternative communication media, specially in the so called developing countries with those conditions. In rich countries we also see political revolutions, characterized by the questioning of traditional parties, the upsurge of new political organizations, connected with plain people and popular movements like women, ecological, immigrant, worker, human rights, antiwar, workers, new religions and others. The loud complaints about the status quo are going to increase everywhere, but a defining characteristic of what will happen is that new, popular movements will actually take power, significantly all over the world, some in whole countries, others, and notably, in localities, with a stronghold looking for new political and economic models characterized by participation of the people. The political upheaval of people will create demand for participative democracy and participative economics (at least at the interior of the firms, with cooperatives being the benchmark). Lastly, there will be a strong growth of networks of popular movements and political and economic new institutions led by the people across nations and the world, sometimes well beyond the figure of the nation state.
In the next sections we argue why we see such tendencies, and motivate the main reason, which serves as title to the article: information sharing as a sparkling light. In the last section we briefly propose an agenda of action for the revolutionaries, and conclude.
Injustice, inequality and revolution
It is well known that inequality, properly rationalized by the low income people, produces revolutions. There are famous modern formal theories that predict such a thing, confirming the dialectical theories of history beginning with Karl Marx, like the median voter theorem, or, notably, John Roemer's theory (1983) that shows that when income distribution is more unequal, revolutions are more likely.
A false revolutionary ideology ascribes the causes of revolutions to envy of the rich by the poor. And a rightist ideology that has made some road into some self-denominated left activists holds that poor are so because they are responsible for their choices in the past, or because of their laziness and corrupt character in general. It turns out that even thinkers like Robert Lucas, a well known Chicago Nobel laureate who can not be suspicious of being leftist or attacking neoliberalism, has shown, in a famous paper coauthored with Andrew Atkenson (1992), that, even a small inequality of information at the beginning of an economy populated by people with the same tastes for leisure and the same abilities, produces very unequal outcomes as time goes on. So, it is not that poor people have chosen more leisure over hard work in the past, compared to rich people. A small exogenous circumstance, attributed to bad luck for having less key information of opportunities can make a huge difference. And this is completely unfair, from the ethical stand point, and from the political stand point. But asymmetry of information is only one of many so called market failures that produce inefficiencies and unfair treatment of otherwise likewise people. We have also externalities (like pollution, environment degradation), credit constraints (like the ones imposed on the poor), public goods (like information, knowledge, technology), market power, poorly defined property rights, and so on as such causes of unfair social outcomes. The distributive justice literature has given enough arguments about the justification of income redistribution on grounds of fairness, taking into account all sorts of circumstances, and also individual responsibility (Roemer, 1996, 1998).
Even according to liberal thinkers like John Rawls, inequality is not only unfair, both ex-post, such as the cases occurring in a dynamic economy with unequal circumstances, and ex-ante, such as the case of personal handicaps that can be attributed to bad luck before being born, which must be insured against by ex-post transfers. Inequality is also inconvenient for economic growth. There is increasing evidence that inequality also produces economic stagnation, besides political turmoil. It has been shown by Robert Barro and other authors, for example, that among other factors, equality in income distribution is a factor that explains economic growth (Barro, 1981, 1998).
Even further, it is nowadays undisputed that participation of workers in the firm, and people in political matters, in particular poor workers and poor people, greatly improves firm performance, and administrative performance of the public sector. The false ideology that says that workers are less able intellectually has given way to the documented facts that they generally know more about the production processes in which they are involved than their bosses. And likewise, the false ideology that common people are less able to deal with public administrative affairs than university specialist has given way to the documented facts that peoples' participation in government greatly improves public administration performance. By what we are saying, the traditional rightist tradeoff between economic efficiency and equity is being broken.
To give just one example of effectiveness of public sector activities where people participate directly, in a study of 121 projects of rural clean water in 49 countries, Isham, Narayan and Pritchett (1994) found that 7 of every 10 projects was successful when the communities involved participated in their design and implementation. Only one of each 10 of them was successful when there was no participation. The explanation is found in the fact that the human mind has limitations, and people who deal directly with matters of their interest or involvement, has more knowledge than others that are not so close to the mater. In the case of people and government, they know more about what they really want, and what they have, than a central planner, even a benevolent one. Also, poor people have usually made hard choices regarding administration of scarce resources, and, as a consequence, are good administrators. In addition, they are aware of how public projects are done, since many of them are able to supervise at the site more than well studied central administrators and supervisors.
So, inequality, and exclusion, are unfair and inconvenient for society, not only for the poor and excluded. If poor people are given the chance and the resources to participate, not only they, but the whole organization in question, including society as a whole, benefits. It is true that in most circumstances a small group of people who benefit from the unfair exploitation of the excluded will object if the exploited are given a chance to participate and be subjects of their own development as human beings in society. Especially if the participating people are given political power to make decisions. But people generally find the elevation of those narrow interests over the interest of the majority to be unfair, and the consciousness of these facts produces political revolutions consisting in two things: not only redistribution of income and resources, and equalization of circumstances, but also economic and political participation of the poor, exploited and excluded.
It is indisputable that inequality produces revolutions, then. But a key ingredient for revolutions to happen is the raised consciousness of the poor, the agents of change, of the facts, and of the theories: the theories of fairness, the facts of inconvenience of inequality (and the dangers for humanity of neoliberal results regarding environment!). These facts can be, and have been, hidden by the mass media controlled by the exploiters and imperialists, in order to avoid revolutions. But such repression and laws against revolutions do not matter: the war will be fought on the grounds of information, knowledge and ideas. The ideological battle.
Free Software: a model for free information
Before describing how ideological conscience will bring about the foreseen revolutions, it is going to be useful to describe a new mechanism that will facilitate the ideological battle. Since what we call â€œfree informationâ€ is going to be key in this matter, let us describe its role model: free software. In fact, during the last ten years we have witnessed the beginning of a new revolution in the way software is produced and distributed. Free software is basically winning the competition against private software in grounds where the last one seemed to be unquestionably unbeatable. But what is going on in software is extending to other areas of knowledge and culture in general, like pharmacy technology, music, science and information.
As we know, besides job markets relationships and exploitation in vertical hierarchical firms at the work place, one of the main bases of industrial revolution was technology research and development. But that technology was produced and distributed in a very specific way: in a way suited for market relationships. It turns out that technology, and knowledge are what is called in economics a â€œpublic goodâ€. But not because of its property, but because of its nature: while a private good is literally â€œconsumedâ€ (in the sense of â€œexterminatedâ€ because it is no longer available for use, or consumption for anybody else) when used, a public good, at least in part for the case of â€œimpure public goodsâ€, is still available for use for someone else.
If someone produces a piece of information, of knowledge more in general, for example, that piece is not worn out when used by someone, so that someone else is able to consume it at no additional cost. In this example we see that the means through which a public good is stored, or transmitted, is important for its character, its nature. If there are not means to store the knowledge of a community, other than human memory, for example, and the people who remember die suddenly before they can pass that information to others and to next generations, then that knowledge is no longer a public good. In fact, it does not exist anymore, like the case of the Mayan culture. That is why books, and electronic means, have meant so much for these kinds of goods, for they have allowed them to become really public goods, and to have a mayor impact in human activity.
So, even though knowledge was mainly a public good before the industrial revolution, during this process it was mostly privatized through political, more specifically legal, means. Intellectual rights, like patents and licenses of use, are legal means of converting the public goods of knowledge into private goods. The holder of the property right has the ability, through the legal, judiciary and enforcement institutions, to exclude from consumption whomever she or he chooses. Of course, an â€œintellectual ownerâ€ generally permits a right of use for her or his property in exchange for money, in a market for this kind of goods.
It turns out that if that legal provision was not set in place, a public good can hardly be produced and distributed through the market mechanism. From the economic point of view, if a public good is sold freely in a dynamic market, without paying a price to the initial producer, the sale price of an ulterior distribution is zero. But then, the original price of the good has to cover completely its cost, or otherwise it is not produced at all in equilibrium.
To see why this is so, let us take the example of a piece of software without a license of use, and imagine that someone pays a positive price for it. Since there is no license restriction, the buyer has the right to sell a costless copy of the piece of software. First of all, the sale price now has to be less or equal to the one originally paid, since if it were more, the original seller would take all potential buyers. Let us suppose our buyer sells the copy. Since it has zero production cost (because it is a public good, already produced, which use by the our buyer does not exclude the possibility of use by others), our seller has a net benefit equal to the price. But then, not only will she increase the supply of the piece of software, but also all the buyers to the original vendor will do so, since all of them will get an income without incurring any cost (we assume that the use of the good is worth the price paid for it). The new buyers will add to the previous suppliers, in a chain that will increase total supply, which will make the original price go down. Since all the holders of the piece of software will begin competing among each other for buyers, and the cost of production for them is zero, the price will go down still further, and so each new round, and the limit is zero. This limit will in fact be reached if we assume, as we do, that even a small net positive â€œfor freeâ€ benefit is preferred to zero.
So, if our original buyer can distribute the piece of software at zero cost, she will not sell it, but will give it away for free. On the other hand, amongst the competitors in the described process we will have the original producer, who certainly would have incurred positive costs, but who is not able to sell the good for a price above the one offered by the competitors. If she is not able to cover the costs, she will decide, in equilibrium, not to produce the good at all. The only possibility she has to do so is to sell to the initial buyers at a price that covers the production costs. This can certainly happen, but there are some inefficiencies involved: one, that not all the initial buyers have the same idiosyncratic value of use for the good, so that each of them would have to pay a different price; the second, that all the users after the first round pay nothing, and so are free riders in the process, which makes it inefficient, since the costs should be shared among all the users of the product. With this, we have illustrated why a public good like software, or knowledge in general, if they are produced, they are under-produced, since there is no mechanism that stimulate producers to produce enough of it at the level the society really needs. The only solution for production of these kind of goods through the market mechanism is, then, a political measure, a law, that allows an exclusion of consumption mechanism to be imposed by the original producer, who is awarded an â€œownershipâ€ of the public good in order to do so.
What we have shown is the classical argument used to justify the introduction of privatization laws of public goods like technology and knowledge. The existence of public goods is, in fact, one of the realities that makes the market mechanism fail to provide efficient outcomes for society, and the State has to intervene in order to try to correct, even though imperfectly, the situation. One of the ways of intervention is the aforementioned privatization laws. In this category of laws are, as mentioned, â€œintellectual property rightsâ€: patents, licenses of use, authors rights. It turns out that sustainable production of technology and knowledge are essential for positive sustainable economic growth, and justifies the original expression of â€œendogenous growthâ€ in the nowadays classical models currently used for the issue of economic growth, developed by Robert Lucas (1986) and Paul Romer (1994). We conclude that if there is not another mechanism available to back up the growth during the industrial revolution to produce and distribute technology and knowledge, then it is unavoidable that there be laws that address goods that are public by nature as if they were private goods.
Even though there are some arguments, specially from the ethical stand point, about the â€œneedâ€ to privatize some public goods, like in the case of the human genome, the successful stories of technology producing firms, like the software and drug firms, show that, effectively, the intellectual property rights allow the production of those privatized public goods. But what we want to stress in this article is that, in spite of legal protection for market production, there is a sort of dissident way of producing and distributing these kind of goods, that not only flourish without these kind of laws, but expressly uses regulations against those privatization of public goods laws in order to succeed. It is the way of â€œfree softwareâ€ which, with its most used license, the General Public License (GPL), apply four self-defining rules in order to â€œliberateâ€ the public nature of those kind of goods :
1 The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
2 The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
3 The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
4 The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
In fact, before capitalism, this way to produce and distribute public goods was present in many instances of everyday life, as when people of a community passed through generations the wisdom of their ancestors, using it to live, studying it, adding to it, and teaching others about it. The free software movement has the virtue of overcoming the tremendous forces of the establishment and the laws that allowed and reproduced a way of producing and distributing public goods through the price mechanism that was apparently unbeatable, since private benefit, instead of cooperation and altruism, was the driving force.
What is apparently most paradoxical is that free software is not only produced without the market mechanism, but it is a menace, in terms of market quotas, for privately licensed, and widely used products line Windows and Office, of Microsoft. According to David Wheeler (2006), there is a huge amount of data that shows that the importance of free software in â€œthe marketâ€ is rapidly approaching that of private software tools. A few facts can be cited:
1 The most popular Operating System (OS) in the free software world, GNU/Linux was, by June 2005, the second largest web server OS in the market, with a quota of almost 30% (29,6%), behind Windows, which had at the time 49,6% of the market. That percentage was reached after consistently gaining market share since February 1.999. (See Wheeler).
2 Well-known web sites using free software OS include Google and Yahoo. GNU/Linux is the number one OS on the public Internet: while Windows has a 24,4% share, GNU/Linux has a 28,5% market share.
3 Overall use of GNU/Linux jumped from 35,5% in 2001 to 64.3% in 2002 of Japanese corporations
4 In a survey of business users by Forrester Research Inc., 52% said they are now replacing Windows servers with Linux. Business Week quoted this survey in a January 2005 article, noting that GNU/Linux is forcing Microsoft to offer discounts to avoid losing even more sales.
Another interesting indicator of what is going on shows that Apache, a free software tool that handles web server traffic has gained share from 1995 to become the leading tool now in the market, reaching by 2005 about 70% of the market share, as the following graph shows.
The success of the free software products can be attributed not only to the fact that you do not pay for license use, but also to their overall performance, reliability, scalability, security and total cost of ownership. Those reasons can be found in the definition of the Free Software Foundation (http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-sw.html). It is well known, for example, that for security reasons, President Bush has been advised to use free software tools to protect against the use of the web for terrorist purposes. In fact, an independent study financed by the Department of Internal Security of the US, the same institution which published "The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace" (
In view of this evidence, three questions come to mind:
1 Why is it that the free software, which are public goods not privatized, are not only produced at zero price, but they also beatto market produced and politically protected private software, which are privatized public goods?
2 Can this be extended to other public goods like technology, knowledge in general, and information in particular?
3 If the answer to question two is yes, what consequences does this have for traditional transnational news and information firms? What political consequences does this have?
Before answering the first question, let us remember a key characteristic that lies at the basis of the new phenomena: software is a public good, since it is a set of instructions for the computer, and the fact that a person uses it in her computer does not preclude many other people from using it in the same way.
There is an obvious answer to the first question: there is an economic logic, a logic different from the market one, to produce it. But an explanation of that logic is not so obvious. As far as we know, there are two models, that explain from the economic point of view free software. The first one is one of cooperation of intelligent agents who realize that if they engage in a game of producing a public good with others, the more time others will spend to the production of the common good, and the less they use for other purposes, then the better off they are. Even though there is an incentive to free ride on the others, it can be shown that under standard conditions a positive, although not efficient, amount of the public good is produced. Moreover, if people care for each other, a more efficient outcome is reached, and participants are better off both, as selfish, and as altruistic people (Marhuenda and PÃ©rez-MartÃ, 2000). A game of interaction to influence each other's preferences shows that participants engage in a courting equilibrium in which people become more altruistic, and end up better off, with more production of the public good in equilibrium. (Marhuenda and PÃ©rez-MartÃ, 2000).
In this case, a barter exchange occurs among people, and as the number of participants increase, the part that a given person gives away as an apparent gift, is very small compared to the huge amount of free software she receives in exchange for it. In spite of the free riding incentives, we see much of the exchange going on. But the philosophy of the free software movement is frankly cooperative and altruistic, as Richard Stallman, a historic icon and current leader of the movement says in its GNU Manifesto:
``I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement.... So that I can continue to use computers without dishonor, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free. I have resigned from the AI lab to deny MIT any legal excuse to prevent me from giving GNU away.'
The second model is one based on signaling games, which are dynamic games with incomplete information. The programming work of a hacker is assumed voluntarily, even though she is giving it for free, because she needs to differentiate herself in the job market in order to be hired by users of computer services like support, specific developments, installation, maintenance, and so on. The business model is not a market for privatized software, but for services associated with computers. The job market signaling game literature, initiated by Spence (1973), applied here to software, allows us to explain the big impact this new business model is having in the competition terrain because of the fact that the signal is a public good. In the transaction, not only the hiring firm and the hacker looking for a job get benefits. The only action of showing the CV benefits instantly all of humanity, since software is a public good. And since this action is done millions of times all over the world, the model is unbeatable.
Combined, the two models provide a basic explanation of what is going on, if we further take into account that key to the process is the possibility of communication brought about by Internet: the web, and the computers servers associated with it, which store the programs, is what really makes it easy for programs to be transmitted at virtually no cost: it is what makes it easy to be convert the good into a public good. And another key ingredient is that people who participate in the deal are really solving real problems whose solution is shared with others with similar difficulties, and who, from their experiences and needs help to improve the solutions and share their findings. The model is so powerful that a single bug report by a final user is a very valuable piece of information. It turns out that in that kind of world, the one who fixes bugs with the best solution is very well regarded. And that is one of the reasons why viruses do not prosper in this world, since virus fixers get huge prestige out of their actions to repair . We will not list here the big list of advantages of this revolution, but there are many interesting facts that are only at their beginning, and the theories are also only starting to shed some light on what is going on. We are interested to see how this applies to an area of our more direct interest: information transmission of ideology.
Free Information and revolution
Since information is another public good, we wonder if the free software revolution is able to create a big impulse in other revolutionary efforts. After all, if people are able to overcome the traditional way in which information and misinformation about reality is transmitted by the exploiters, we would be at the gates of a big revolution, since inequality is a fact, and unfairness, inefficiencies, and danger to the human species are hard facts, not transmitted truthfully to those who suffer the consequences.
To begin our analysis, let us see how the four conditions for free software are applied to information. It is true that traditional mass media try to separate as far as they are able to, consumers of a piece of information from other consumers. Traditional users of newspapers do not find it to be easy, specially since it is not well regarded in the dominant ideology, to use the newspapers bought by others in order to satisfy their need to read information. But is is becoming really hard for media firms to exclude consumers from one another in the current circumstances, with the advent and generalization of Internet. It is true that some newspapers on the web are by paid subscription, but that tendency is really doomed to failure, at least in not specialized publications, since it appears that free information is running fast and growing. And the interesting thing is that the ones generating news and analysis are not now professional journalists, but normal people who happen to be at the right place and time. It is true that a news firm can sue somebody for using a piece of information used by them with no authorization. They are even changing to require only that the news source is quoted.
But the fact of the matter is that we are witnessing a phenomena hard to catch by the traditional way of doing business in information. Participation by users of information in the generation and distribution of this public good is making a huge difference. And that is because of two factors: one, that they are everywhere, every time. And the other, is that they suffer consequences of life or death everyday because of the facts they witness. They are very heart intense watchers, and they are very deep analysts of situations they witness and live. Even though they might not have the literary elegance nor the skills of a professional journalist, they transmit a message full of content. And it this kind of message other users, in similar situations all over the world, are interested in seeing, and commenting on, and using as input for their own lives. Of course, in order to generate and transmit information, people must have the means to do it. The power to transmit information is then key to the new process.
So, information generated by the people, from the people, fulfills the conditions of free software: it is free to use, free to study, free to retransmit, and free to modify (to complement with other information, and deepen the analysis), and free to transmit the modifications, allowing others to do so. And information is a true public good since, once transmitted, it is stored in many ways, from computer formats, to written words, to minds of many people who are certainly not going to die simultaneously before passing it along.
But this model has been applied since human beings were able to communicate with each other. The difference now is the accessibility to the means of mass communication, as we said. And a very important issue is that information can be easily manipulated, and has a very strong impact on human beings, due to the fragility of human psychology: if you say to a child despicably that she is fat and she is not liked, that potentially has a huge impact in all her life. If she is a teen ager, and she has a crush on you, that â€œinformationâ€ can certainly kill her, since she can commit suicide. What you represent to others is absolutely crucial for their lives, since people are in a kind of game of images: self image, public image (super ego).
Information forms beliefs, and beliefs are crucial for how people behave. The most important pieces of information a person has for her behavior in relation to other people are three beliefs: what she believes about herself, what she believes about the other person, and what she believes about the circumstances that surround the relationship. For example, in a territorial game, she might believe that she is stronger, but that the other has already taken hold of the terrain in dispute, and attacking will bring benefits, but will most probably inflict losses that make the attack not worthwhile.
In another example, in a coordination game, you might believe that the other is pessimist about the future. So, if you are optimist and and act accordingly while the other is pessimistic and acts accordingly, you are going to lose more than if you stay inactive. You then choose to be pessimistic in order not to be frustrated in your hopes. In these kind of games, an external source of â€œinformationâ€ is able to coordinate a better equilibrium for both of the players: simply making believe that the other believes you are optimistic, will produce optimism in him, so that if you work hard, you will be better off, since both of you are going to have something to exchange with and something to exchange for.
If you are made to believe that the territory is worth a lot, you act differently that if you believe is it worthless. In fact, you might be driven to believe that you yourself are worthless, by racist remarks, associated with the idea that certain race is inferior intellectually. If you buy the racist idea, then you adopt an attitude of submission, or inferiority complex, for example, and behave even like a domesticated slave.
Beliefs can inspire hatred, indifference or love. In fact, education can produce changes even in preferences regarding altruism. One of the main human traits, altruism, and cooperation, are culturally transmitted traits, according to very well documented research (Henrich 2004). And you can have courting games, or â€œbrainwashing gamesâ€ to form altruism: ideological education (see Marhuenda and PÃ©rez-MartÃ, 2000, and Lugo and PÃ©rez-MartÃ 2005).
Beliefs are so crucial, that more than 90% of money, worldwide, is based on them. What is called â€œfiat moneyâ€ does not have an intrinsic value, but is based upon the trust people have in the future of the economy, as asserted by credit giving banks. Sudden discredit about a specific bank, or about a country, otherwise sound in their management, is potentially capable of bringing disaster to that bank or that country, or the whole worldwide financial system. Coordination of beliefs is crucial for stability, and information and misinformation can produce a big difference regarding the actual â€œequilibriumâ€ people play regarding the value of money.
So, it is crucial to have access to mass media communication possibilities in order for the people to transmit what we have called â€œfree informationâ€, and transmit their own truths, to learn from others with the same interests, coordinate their own equilibria (including the ones that sustain their own worth as a race, or genre, or social segment), and counteract the lies and attempts to enslave and alienate from the owners of the mass media, who happen to be the same who exploit the circumstances that favor injustice and inequality. Fortunately that is being made possible by the Internet, as a central network of information that is connected to â€œtraditionalâ€ nodes at the ends of the network: transmission mouth to mouth, local newspapers, radio stations or TV stations, that are relatively cheap to own and to operate.
Curiously, and importantly, in asymmetric information dynamic games, there is a result worthwhile to mention that come â€œcheap talkâ€ games (when messages are cheap, like in the case of Internet for people with access to it). This result says that when people have the same interests, they transmit the information truthfully to each other. An outstanding example of spontaneous and righteous information transmission is the case of Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page), the most visited encyclopedia in the Internet. It is a collaborative endeavour done by millions of volunteers all over the world. One of the remarkable features is that up until recently, you did not have to have permission to modify the content of the encyclopedia. Nevertheless, the information was generally trusted and trustworthy, so much as to establish the encyclopedia as the most widely used source of definitions, word spelling, geographical, historical, biographic and otherwise information all over the world, with translations available to almost every single language available in the world.
Friends and foes of the revolution, and the role of free information and participation
Revolution that implies distributive justice, direct power to the people, both economical and political, and emancipation of slavery of any kind, in particular ideological slavery, has many enemies, and revolution is not going to be an easy process. The traditional enemies of economic and political freedom of the exploytees are going to be there against revolution. Since the struggle is both national and international, we are going to have national and international enemies of political and economic changes. Capitalistic exploiters at all levels are going to be there against a process that questions their unjust supremacy and their reign to do harm not only to workers, but also to the environment, putting in danger the whole of humanity. Since the lack of mechanisms that control the market system, with all its harms, is most noticeable at the international level, and free information is making people aware of this fact everywhere, there is going to be a struggle everywhere for worldwide controls and against imperialism and international inequalities and injustices. But the main battleground is going to be at the national, and most noticeable, at the local levels, where people will make serious attempts to get hold of power, mainly political power. And one of the main enemies they are going to face are the traditional holders of political power, either if they are direct economic exploiters, or professional politicians.
There might be many battlegrounds, but there is going to be a main battleground, one with two players. The defining element that will separate in two the contending fields and its members in the main battleground is participation. Those in favor of participation are going to be the revolutionaries. Those against it, the counterrevolutionaries. But one of the new characteristics of revolution in this time of free information is that identification of the side of any person is not going to be, in general, a difficult one, especially for the people. In the signaling game of identification who is who, there is going to be a separating equilibrium in which the ones who really belong to the revolutionary camp are going to be able to signal, with costly signals, that they really are revolutionaries. The costly signal of the revolutionary activists, in the self-defined revolutionary field, not payable by the oportunists and corrupts, is the willingness to work for revolution with the people, the communities, without the returns of professional politicians or bureaucrats in influencial posts who use their prerrogatives not to empower the people, but to milk their posissions of power. This differenciacion is going to be possible more and more in the places where a strong advent of free information throuhg the Internet and alternative communications means will allow people to take much more control than in the past of political information and events, including behavior of political figures, activists and bureaucrats.
The venezuelan situation regarding peoples power
To illustrate this, let us talk about the somewhat paradoxical case of Venezuela, where we have a revolution going on. We have identified beliefs as a crucial element of free information, free knowledge and revolutionary ideology. The conviction of revolutionaries that the people are prepared to govern themselves is crucial in its revolutionary ideology. Paradoxically, as I said, judging for their actions in the last eight years in power, and by the recent law on communal councils (see http://conexionsocial.org.ve/wk/Law_Of_Communal_Councils%2e_Final_Draft), most of the current governing group in Venezuela believe that people are not prepared to govern themselves directly. If course, this is an ideology (a belief) of the right, a counter-revolutionary ideology.
It turns out that, accordingly to the recently aproved law, the communal councils only handle less than one percent of the government budget. Besides, they are not actually related to, and their elections are independent from, the municipal community councils, who control, just in theory, only about 20% of the municipal budget, and are very dependent financially on the will of the President of the country. The municipal community councils, called â€œplanning councilsâ€, on the other hand, are very dependent, in practice, on the elected mayors of the city, and do not have really powers of administration and evaluation. In practice they do not have power to change the bureaucratic and representative establishment, since the ordinary budget is only under control of the mayors. (For an analysis, see ttp://conexionsocial.org.ve/wk/Observaciones_y_propuestas_de_Felipe_P%c3%a9rez_Mart%c3%ad). What we have with the communal councils resembles the World Bank community groups who handle small, very marginal, community projects like housing construction and repair, and some very small, due to the small budget available, public infrastructure projects. It is like the generalization at the national level of a typical World Bank prescription for a poor country (Maier and Stiglitz, 2002). So the ideology is not a straightforward rightist ideology, but a sort of advanced World Bank ideology for poor countries, let us say.
Based on conversations with some public officials and congress representatives, it seems that most of them think that poor people have a â€œbad cultureâ€ of corruption: , if given a bigger budget, the people are going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Those so called â€œrevolutionariesâ€ with counter-revolutionary ideology, or a mild leftist ideology for World Banck standars, one would say, do not seem to know the elementary fact that when political property changes, then political culture changes. If a worker, for instance, believes the firm is hers, she will not act to hurt it, and will not hide information the way she would if she is only working for a salary. In the same manner, if a citizen beliefs the public thing is hers, and that she is an administrator, her attitude changes dramatically. So, our â€œleftistâ€ leaders have in reality a rightist belief. And with this you can not make a revolution. Most of them say people need ideological formation before allowing them to govern: they have to have â€œsocialistâ€ mentality, they have to be altruistic, and things like that. As we are seeing, we certainly need ideological formation, but we need it for most of the governing party members and officials. And the teachers are going to be the people who performed the 13th of April 2002 upsurge that defeated the coup that the oligarchy, supported by the mass media and the government of the US, and brought back their elected President, Hugo ChÃ¡vez, the common people. Certainly the people need a new ideology, and need leadership, but all the leadership, and the ideology, has to be proposed to the people, and people, in a participatory democracy, should decide what to accept and what to regect, even if this entails the possibility of mistakes, to which the people are entaitled by political sovereignity principles.
As it turns out, there is going to be a struggle of the people to require for more participation, at the city, states, and the nation. And the new bureaucrats, and most parties en power, which meet mostly to distribute among their members the spoils of power, are going to try to try to stop the people. Fortunately, the people are awaken now, and there are significant numbers of revolutionaries who will fight at the side of the people. We hope that President Chavez will take the side of the people in all this struggle, but not only for particular vindications, or for particular condemnation of corrput acts of the new corrupts in power, but to overhaul the political structure present in the old institucions and the new mistaken laws. People like the changes made at the central and most regional and local governments, but they are not content with a mere change of representatives as a substitute for an actual revolution, even if their measures are revolutionary in terms of the peoples welfare. They are aware about the many and unacceptable mistakes made by the representatives, and specially about the impossibility of changing the present state of affairs not only at the old institutions, but also at the new, paralel ones, that promote social welfare of the poor people, in particular the rampant acts of corruption by the members of the new political class. For a real change in ideology the people need a change in structures.
The fact of the matter is that we are watching how the same people who brought back to President Chavez to power, after the brief coup, are communications with each other, trhough free information (Internet, local alternative community media, political talk at many local places), about the need to go well beyond the structural changes made from above. And that is a real hope, since in the process, people are trying to identify who is who, regarding ideas about peoples power and participation, using the (costly) signals of revolutionary compromise, on the one hand, and corruption and misuse of peoples power, on the other.
The tasks ahead and concluding remarks
We have stated that inequalities, and consciousness of the poor people about their origins and consequences produce revolutions. We have argued that in presence of a â€œcheap talkâ€ game, in which information flows easily and virtually costlessly, communities of what we have called free information put forward their own interpretation of reality, and their beliefs, making possible the identification of injustices and the fight for changes, mainly political changes based on participation. If we then put the condition of actual inequalities, injustices, and important threats to the present and future life conditions of the people, like the ones related to environmental problems, predatory wars, lack of international mechanisms that are able to control huge monetary fluctuations that affect solvent small countries, and so on, we are in a cultivating culture of revolutions wherever the conditions prevail. And given the ideological war of the people against the counterrevolutionary mass media atacks subverting the truths, and the costly signals of the true revolutionaries, people are now, more than ever, going to be able to tell what is what and who is who, so making possible real revolutions.
Regarding what is actually going on in terms of inequality, let us cite a paragraph cited by Hahnel (2005) from a 1995 by Edward Wolf:
â€œMany people are aware that income inequality has increased over the past twenty years. Upper-income groups have continued to do well while others, particularly those without a college degree and the young have seen their real income decline. The 1994 Economic Report of the President refers to the 1979-1990 fall in real income of men with only four years of high school -a 21% decline_ as stunning. But the growing divergence evident in income distribution is even starker in wealth distribution. Equalizing trends of the 1930s-1970s reversed sharply in the 1980s. The gap between haves and have-nots is greater now than at any time since 1929â€.
Regarding global inequality, the trends seem even worse. Hahnel cites sources that report a 13 percent increase in income inequality between 1960 and 1988, for example, and concludes that
â€œThe gap between rich and poor countries has increased dramatically, and all evidence available so far indicates that this trend towards greater global inequality has continued into the new millennium as neoliberal globalization continues despite growing popular dissentâ€
The situation of inequality is so strong, and the means that free information is giving to the people, that traditional mass media, in spite of their traditional power to determine political outcomes, brainwashing exploited people, that they have not been able, for example, to stop the election of Hugo ChÃ¡vez in Venezuela in December of 1998, even with poll manipulation and other resources. The vast majority of mass media in Venezuela have said once and again one thing, while the vast majority of the people say somewhing else, and do otherwise, as demonstrated in election after election in the Venezuelan process.
The most stunning example of people awakening is what happened during the days of the 11th, 12th and 13th of April 2002. There was a coup d'etat promoted by the media, and during the coup the population was misinformed regarding mass killings of street demonstrators attributed to the government of President ChÃ¡vez, and his close followers. During the new dictatorial government, a big scale repression commenced, and the media, who gave their blessing to the advent of a â€œdemocratic regimeâ€, gave for a fact the demise of President ChÃ¡vez. In spite of all this, the people, even without the coverage of the public radio and television that previously supported ChÃ¡vez, transmitted their own information and interpretation about the facts through the Internet, international media, and just telephone and direct talking. In a spontaneous manner, in a way not seen ever before in Venezuela or the whole world, they went to the streets all over the country, and, with the support of some sympathetic military, and brought back ChÃ¡vez to power.
More examples of what is going on regarding people's awakening are everywhere, from Bolivia to Peru, from Argentina to Uruguay, from Nicaragua to Colombia and Brazil, to mention some of the most emblematic cases. But you can also see this kind of awakening in rich countries like Spain, Italy, and the US, where people are very strongly questioning the mass media versions of the motives and the news about the war in Iraq, for example. Much of what is going on is explained by free information. And our prediction is that, in the same way free software is dethroning Microsoft and other software corporations, free information is going to dethrone Fox News, CNN and other news corporations.
The task for the revolutionaries is to promote even more the use of Internet, and protect it and generalize it as a save haven for popular communication all over the world. Revolutionaries should also promote more nodes to this free information network, forming local media to connect directly to people with no access to the Internet, and reporting to them about the free information that comes from everywhere, and report throught the Internet their free information, that includes their political struggles. Tey should promote not only common peoples exchange of news and analyses about their political matters, but also the exchange of economic information, free technology, free knowledge, free science, free solutions to health problems, free solutions to organizational matters regarding the formation of cooperative organizations of productions, and their networks of production and distribution of goods and services.
We know, once again, that the main battle is going to be a battle between information and counter information regarding political participatory matters, and mass media is going to play a big role against free information and against the participation of the people. The revolutionaries can help, for free, to distinguish revolutionary information and ideology from counterrevolutionary ones. We know that the CIA and other agencies are going to flood the web with misinformation, and false ideological analyses. But the quantity of people involved in doing that paid work is going to be very limited compared to the amount of people generating the good information, in a similar way that while very well paid computer engeneers paid by Microsoft and other private software companies, they do not compare in numbers (and quality!) to the thousands of big and small hackers populating the Internet and beating them with their solutions. People, in this process, are getting an extraordinary feeling to be able to identify their true interests, as in the reported cases of Venezuela and Latin America, where a traditional and very strong apparatus of mass media misinformation is being defeated by the people and their free information ways.
Humanity is at the brink of many revolutions, and of worldwide political turmoils. Let us contribute, with our humble participation as intellectuals, and local and global activists, help to catalyze that process.
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