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Mapping the patterns of the GNU GPL into the physical realm

The GNU GPL uses Copyright to enforce Copyleft which requires Users gain access to the immaterial Sources of the Objects they use.

Objects are finished goods, such as a computer program.

Sources are the “preferred form of the work for making modifications to (future instances) of it”, such as human-readable “source code”.

We might think of the Sources as the Immaterial Means of Production.

The GNU GPL is voluntary, meaning the ‘owners’ of the Sources choose to apply this constraint.

Hmm… How would this structure apply to the production of a physical Object such as bread?

Let’s say we are going to write a sort of “Terms of Operation” that owners of Material Means of Production can voluntarily choose to apply to real property. For now we can refer to this agreement as the “General Public Terms of Operation” (GPTO).

Now let’s do some text-replacement and see what the results should look like:

The GPTO uses Property Rights to enforce “Property Left” which requires Users gain access to the Material Sources of the Products they use.

Products are finished goods, such as a loaf of bread.

Material Sources are the “preferred form of the work for making modifications to (future instances) of it”, such as a farm to grow wheat, a mill to grind flour, and a bakery to bake loaves.

So a business operating like this would need to somehow make sure the person buying bread gains access to the farm, mill and bakery, even though that user may not know how or even want to deal with those Material Sources.

This may seems like an impossible goal since Material Sources have real costs that cannot be ignored.

I thought about this problem for a very long time.

In the meantime I kept hearing about large corporations controlling more and more of the production we need, and collecting more and more Profit along the way.

I wondered about the special value called Profit. I wondered where it really comes from and what we really ought to be doing with it.

Then it suddenly occured to me that we can use part of the Profit the User pays at the point-of-sale to buy and build more farms and mills and bakeries that then eventually become the real property of those Users.

Almost simultaneously I also realized that when Users own the Material Means of Production, they can accept the Product itself (such as bread) as the return on investment, meaning there is no need to sell the Product at all since it is already the property of those who will consume it.

So by treating (at least part of) Profit as the payer’s investment, Users incrementally gain property ownership in the Material Means of Production.

And if these Users treat the Product itself as their return on investment, they do not sell the bread to themselves, and so eventually no longer pay Profit to anyone.

If these Users have surplus Product, they can sell it to Users who do not yet have enough ownership, and even charge Profit against them, but must (according to the GPTO) treat some of that Profit as the payer’s investment so that all Users eventually gain enough ownership in the Material Sources of Production needed to insure they have control over what they need, and can receive those Products at no more than the real costs of production.


That’s one of the most creative and innovative economic ideas I’ve heard in a long time! :astonished: Or at the very least it looks like a fancy idea that emerged out of a creative combination of concepts. :slightly_smiling:

The way you phrased it, it sounds like there is a necessity to expand the means of production via the profits of the users. However, that might not be desirable, if the means of production are already extensive enough. Instead, profits might buy additional shares of the means of production. Yet, these new shares would diminish the relative value of the already existing shares of the previous shareholders. Those would therefore have no incentive to make any profits under the GPTO – unless they have a natural psychological disposition to share their means of production with others.

Is that a problem of the GPTO? What if it only shows that making profits is “unnatural” in some way? If profits were reduced to zero, the users would effectively gain the amount that the producers would have gotten as profit. So, the users are effectively empowered. They could use the savings to invest into whatever they want – rather than investing into the means of production that enabled the creation of the product they purchased by default. However, they also could use the savings for more consumption – or would they violate the GPTO by doing that?

Would the GPTO imply a “zero profit economy”? How would that be different from the non-profit sector we already have right now? Isn’t the non-profit sector the equivalent to the copyleft commons in some way?

Why would only some of the profit have to be treated as the payer’s investment and not all of it?

Yes, in fact it is almost guaranteed to be true, since the current owners would have no surplus to sell unless they were producing more than they need. On the other hand, it is reasonable to own slightly more Sources than you predict you will need of the Product to protect yourself case there is a problem with production (say a drought or fire).

The current owners can choose to sell-off some of their current holdings if they like - and this will be an important option for those who change their mind about how much they want of that exact product, etc., but I don’t think there is any reason to limit the amount a person can own since treating profit as payer investment will eventually solve the distribution problem anyway (I may be wrong here, especially in extreme cases of monopolization).

Again, the current owners are not required to sell any of their own property - they can choose to buy new land and tools, etc. to fulfill the requirement of the GPTO.

But the desire to extract profits is a traditionally very powerful motivation, and since I do not fully understand all of those motivations, the GPTO only requires part of profits be treated as payer investment, leaving the rest to drive part of the business in the usual manner.

Profit does not exist in the special case where the users are the owners and accept the product itself as ROI. This seems to prove profit measures the payer’s lack of ownership in the means of production.

So profit appears to be a “natural” result of property misallocation. Treating profit as the payer’s investment creates a “negative feedback loop” that continuously distributes property to those who pay for that growth, and so drives profit toward zero.

But profit seems “unnatural” in regular capitalism because it is (I think mostly with innocent intentions) being treated as a reward for the current owners, creating a “positive feedback loop”, concentrating more property into the hands of those who already own too much (the only reason they are selling the product is because they have no use for it themselves), and so drives profit toward infinity.

Yes, this is an important point. Say you buy a strawberry milkshake from a company using the GPTO, only to findout you are allergic to strawberries. You wouldn’t want part ownership in a strawberry field. Being able to exchange these titles with others is perfectly acceptable and very important part of what I see as the basis of a new currency, though there are a few more details I need to flesh-out here with respect to how the currency is simultaneously backed both by the material Sources of production and also by Promises from workers who commit to apply their skills against those Sources to accomplish that production.

I have thought about this part extensively, and am pretty sure we need a sort of ‘delay’ on the amount of time before the user can cashout lest they never gain ownership in Sources, but would love to hear objections or alternatives since in some ways it seems draconian.

Non-profits are not owned by the consumers, and even when it is claimed that they are (such as a consumer cooperative), the consumers do not have real ownership, and certainly do not accept the product itself as ROI, and so the real owners overpay themselves massive wages while pretending profits do not exist.

Owners of a PropertyLeft commons would just fire these CEO types.

Treating 100% as payer investment was my initial assumption, and how I have usually phrased it when writing about this, and would probably be the fastest way to spreading this approach, but any amount above 0% would incrementally move us in that direction, and smaller amounts would be easier to ‘sell’ as a business idea since many corporations already spend some amount of profits on random ‘charitable’ things anyway (usually as a PR stunt).

I’ve had this idea myself too. But I completely missed that it could be compared to GPL this way. One day I just realized that it’s unfair to just give all the profit to the owners of companies. I was pondering the way our economic system is stacked too much in the favour of those who own things as opposed to those who do things.

The difference in my case is that I was just thinking about awarding the customer shares to the company in return rather than ownership in the means of production. Although, I’m not sure if the difference is really significant.

I ended up unable to figure out how to determine how much ownership should be given to the customer. This would probably mean that some kind of a generally acceptable level of profit from ownership is allocated to the owners and anything above that dilutes the previous owners’ shares in the company.

I don’t understand why you’re comparing bread to software. The GPL allows me to modify the software in any way I want. So when mapped to bread it would mean I can do whatever I want with the bread. The GPL does not give me any control or rights over the factory that made the software. So why do you think mapping the GPL to bread means I would get control over the factory that made the bread?

You whole idea seems to be just: ‘The proletariat should take control over the means of production’. Which is not a new idea. And it’s pretty obvious.

I don’t see how some GPL like thing is going to help this become a reality. The reason it’s difficult to achieve is cos there are greedy people that want to cling on to their power.

Yes, but to modify software requires access to the Sources.

The GNU GPL splits software into “Object Code” and “Sources”.

The Object Code is the machine-readable ‘app’ that a user would install.

Sources are the human-readable instructions that are compiled to create the app.

To change the app usually requires access to the Sources.

Most proprietary software is distributed only as the machine-readable app, and does not include the Sources.

If you do not have the Sources, you cannot (realistically) change the app.

In this way, Sources have some correlation with the Means of Production.

I do not want anyone to take anything.

I am suggesting we buy property in groups and then voluntarily choose to apply some constraints to that property so we can avoid becoming the very beast we are fighting.

It is common for groups to turn sour as they scale even when all those involved had the very best intentions from the start.

This is partly from wealth being concentrated by our misguided treatment of profit as a reward for the current owners while ignoring the plight of the consumer who paid that value.

Your analogy is bad. Comparing software to a petrol engine: Having access to the source code is like having the blueprint/documentation for how the engine works, it helps you to understand it and make modifications/copies if you want. So for bread it would be like having access to the ingredients list and techniques used to make the bread. You’re confusing ‘access to the blueprint/design notes’ with ‘access to the factory that made the thing’. They are very different.

[quote=“Moriarty, post:7, topic:944, full:true”]
You’re confusing ‘access to the blueprint/design notes’ with ‘access to the factory that made the thing’. [/quote]

No, I am not confusing those two things.

The design of a factory or the recipe for bread are the Immaterial Sources.

Copyright holders can use the GNU GPL to guarantee users gain access to the Immaterial Sources of production, such as designs and recipes.

But we must take a different approach to guarantee access to the Material Sources such as an actual factory or a farm, mill and bakery for making bread.

I am proposing we buy some land and tools, etc. and then use Property Rights to enforce an analogous set of constraints in the physical world through a Terms of Operation that guarantees users gain access to the Material Sources of Production.

Here is a paper I wrote some time ago about these differences:

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