Attribution as an Economic Model for FLO (Relevant EmacsConf talk)

"The problem of supporting open source software and contributors is a pressing one, and one for which we don’t have good solutions.

So many developers today pour their creative energies into freely-distributed works only to have those same works of passion turn into a pain in the neck when they find themselves eternally on the hook to provide support in exchange for minimal or no compensation, and often with limited assistance.

Fundamentally, the reason it is this way is that traditional economic systems operate on supply and demand as the basis of value. In such systems, open and unlimited availability translates into zero market value, and consequently, open source enterprises are not economically sound. Even in high profile projects, developers make a living purely through value added services rather than from the core of the value of their contributions – that is, from the code they wrote. Since, from a market value standpoint, that code is worthless.

Copyright and patents (not to mention proprietary software) are an attempt to address this within the existing economic model by imposing artificial scarcity in order to induce market value. In principle, they also provide safeguards against appropriation. On the other hand, the unlimited availability of creative works is a profoundly good thing from the perspective of maximizing value, and thus suppressing it is deeply misguided. Organizations like the Free Software Foundation have campaigned against such restrictions for some time now, for related reasons; nevertheless, the problem of providing a viable economic basis, aside from these crude attempts, remains unaddressed.

Attribution-based economics is a new model that aims to remedy this state of affairs by changing the basis of value from supply and demand to collective recognition. This is facilitated by a process of “inheritance attribution” where we collectively agree on the extent of inheritance of ideas and works in other (e.g. derivative) ideas and works, by means of transparent and evolving standards. This model is capable of recognizing a much larger set of valuable contributions, including forms of value that cannot be coerced into a supply-and-demand equation. That is, in this model, there is no need to artificially restrict availability in order for something to be considered valuable. By virtue of the curious property that innovations on the process are themselves subject to the process of recognition in a self-reflective way, we gain accuracy, and by the property that agreed-upon standards apply equally to all, we gain fairness – guarantees that are at best tenuously present in today’s economic systems.

This talk introduces some early experiments with attribution-based economics in the Emacs community, and some initial proposals that point the way forward on how, with your help, such a system might scale up to larger projects and communities far beyond open source."

    00:00:00 Problems
    00:18 Solution?
    00:30 A common underlying problem
    00:55 Capitalism
    02:05 Copyright
    03:49 An attribution-based economic system is efficient
    05:01 Gyroscopes
    07:45 Prototypes
    09:05 Founding documents
    10:05 Declaration of non-ownership
    10:24 The financial model
    11:23 The attribution model
    12:49 The accounting system
    13:59 Github account
    15:17 Expanding the boundary
    17:11 Adopting this idea
    18:39 Closing thoughts
    19:04 Taking care of one another

See the transcript if you want to speed through it, but the voice, visuals, and cadence in the recording is pretty good. Also the pad where Q&A happened. There I ask if the creator is aware of SourceCred, which implements nearly all of these ideas using a value-flow-graph algorithm. Also the Declaration of Non-Ownership.

1 Appreciation