Free Information Free Software and Revolution


Introduction

 

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

Leave a comment