Capitalist efficiency and tech

People say capitalism is efficient, yet Twitter has around 5,OOO employees while Mastodon was built pretty much single handedly by Eugene Rochko. Today, Mastodon provides a strictly superior user experience with only a handful of contributors.

Majority of effort at Twitter is directed towards things like ads and tracking that are actively harmful from user perspective. Meanwhile, the core functionality of the platform that benefits the users can be implemented with a small fraction of the effort.

Seems to me that capitalism is actually far more inefficient than open source development in practice.

It surprises me how many people in the open source community are libertarians when open source embodies so many traits of humans interactions under socialism. Not to mention the absurd amount those people criticize capitalist practices in software just like Twitter but never take it a step further.

@yogthos
creator
131Y

Yeah I find it weird as well. I love to use open source as an example of how things can work outside capitalism. It shows that you don’t need profit as a motivator for people to participate and that effort can be organized organically from bottom up instead of needing a business owner to direct it. It’s a really great example of communism working in the wild.

It always floors me when I meet right-wing FLOSS enthusiasts. FLOSS is socialism in action, and may in fact be the biggest downward transfer of wealth in all of human history. It’s the only place we can truly challenge capitalism within the system.

@zan
31Y

Its also a source of profound wealth transfer upwards. All of FAANG but moreso the web companies are built on foundations of a billion lines of non-AGPL code they could use for profit.

I’m not including software that can be used in proprietary systems later. I mean truly libre software.

@jsgohac
1
edit-2
1Y

Do you have examples of FAANG relying on open-source code (especially ones they did not build themselves like chromium, angular, react, etc)? Perhaps jasmine is one …

@jwinnie
3
edit-2
1Y
  • Google with Chrome OS (Gentoo, Wayland, GNU/Linux and a ton of other open-source apps and libraries) and Android (Linux)
  • Most web servers run open source operating systems (FreeBSD, OpenBSD, GNU/Linux)
  • Widely used languages in proprietary software development: C/C++ (GNU Compiler Collection, clang/LLVM, GNU libc, Boost, and a ton of major math/graphics/etc libraries), Python (cpython, Django, numpy), Ruby (Rails), and PHP
  • WebKit (Safari) is a fork of KHTML, and Blink (Chromium) is a fork of WebKit, so both Chrome and Safari are based on KHTML, which was a (now discontinued) open-source browser engine developed by the KDE project
  • Darwin (foundation for macOS, iOS) is derived from BSD

These are just a few examples off the top of my head. There are many more.

@koavf
61Y

To be clear, there are plenty of libertarian socialists as well, and “libertarian” used to mean “anarchist” before it was deliberately co-opted by the semi-Objectivist, right wing-style libertarians of the Libertarian Party in the 1970s.

Yeah you’re right I should’ve clarified that I meant right-libertarians.

@wraptile
banned
21Y

Why do you assume libre software is not aligned with libertarian values? libertarians are against copyright and so is libre software.

I specified below that I should’ve clarified that I meant right-libertarians since yes FLOSS can apply to libertarian philosophies of freedom. It can even apply to right-libertarians, but I feel like they’re misguided since FLOSS is pretty antithetical to qualities of capitalism. Also FLOSS requires a collective effort to create, maintain, and spread while right-libertarian philosophy is grounded in individuals and individual freedom.

@wraptile
banned
21Y

Libertarianism is not against collective action.

Further you are incorrect to imply that floss requires collective action. Software development scales down with efficiency when it comes to numbers. The most efficient system would be single developers working on small single programs that can connect to each other - and that’s what UNIX philosophy is.

Finally invidualism and invidual freedom is completely compatible with cooperation as long as those freedoms are respected and with Libre software that’s indeed the case. You can drop off a community, fork the project and continue on your own. In other words the community does not control the project.

You’re right I was incorrect and made some assumptions in that comment. Thanks for pointing them out and correcting them. I think I abstracted away from FLOSS software too much and didn’t actually connect my qualms with right-libertarianism with software.

@wraptile
banned
11Y

No problem!
I think the beauty of libre software is that it can work well in many different systems and we see it in action all around the world from cryptocurrencies which are very libre and very libertarian (see Bitcoin) or very socialist (see Tezos for example), to linux kernel which is very capitalistic and finally to fediverse which is very much socialistic and community driven.

@dancingvoles
5
edit-2
1Y

Their definition of efficiency is extremely specific and only relevant to capitalists (economic efficiency is defined as maximizing profit, basically, making every other efficiency consideration secondary).

Capitalists literally live in their own little world. You want to know how capitalist economists defend the idea that scarcity is a basic feature of human existence? You can always imagine wanting more. For them, wanting another yacht in your fleet is the same kind of scarcity as dying of malnutrition and we can’t and shouldn’t try to distinguish them analytically.

@yogthos
creator
41Y

That’s exactly right, and the problem is that people hearing terms like freedom and efficiency tend to assume that they’re the ones benefiting.

@you
51Y

Twitter is a natural monopoly, due to network effects. Monopolies can ignore market pressure, since competing with them takes a lot of initial resources. This is why I’m such a fan of Mastodon, as federation enables competition (see related discussion here: https://lemmy.ml/post/38605).

It’s hard to compare the two on efficiency however, as it could be argued that 5,000 employees are needed to maintain this monopoly (which in turn would enable extracting greater return from a captive audience than having to compete would). If Mastodon never takes off (which I hope is unlikely), then maybe the costs of maintaining a monopoly are actually worth it, even if they’re high.

@yogthos
creator
31Y

Specifically, a lot of the effort is directed towards finding ways to monetize users. Open source model can deliver the core functionality with very modest resources. Meanwhile, capitalist model introduces monetization mechanism like ads, tracking, and user analytics in addition to that. From user perspective these can largely be seen as a net negative. So, this effort can be seen as a waste since it exists for the benefit of the business owners as opposed to providing any sort of functionality that the users are interested in. If there’s no business than all that work never needs to be done in the first place.

@you
31Y

I think the real question is “efficient at what?”. I’m on the same page as you overall regarding open source and whatnot, but if you want to make a boatload of money, Twitter (and monopolies, and all sorts of consumer-hostile practices) is arguably more efficient for that than open source projects.

@yogthos
creator
31Y

That’s precisely the crux of it.

@jwinnie
4
edit-2
1Y

Many people (e.g. Eric S Raymond) would argue that this type of efficiency gain from switching to a communist economic model is only experienced in the software industry. The reasoning behind that would be that software (and other digital contentworks) has special traits: it is cheap to produce and infinitely reproducible (the economics of free software are essentially post-scarcity economics).

On the other hand, certain industries, like the mass production of clothing and mining for precious metals, would massively lose out as a result of a communist economic model because they can no longer extract maximum value from laborers by underpaying them and must provide quality working conditions, which would result in a decrease in productivity. Additionally, there would be an allocational problem: if a resource is scarce, where should it be sent, and for what purpose should it be used?

It should be noted that I’m not intending to criticize socialism in any way - it’s just that socialists should gain a better understanding of economics so that socialism can be presented as a highly sophisticated alternative economic system rather than some knee-jerk ramblings.

EDIT: Crossposted your post to /c/debatepolitics in a shameless effort to promote my community :)

@yogthos
creator
41Y

I’d argue that we have clear evidence that the communist model works quite well in the physical world. Consider what USSR managed to accomplish in an incredibly short period of time. Russia went from a backwards agrarian society under Tsarism, through the devastation of WW2, to being the first nation in space. USSR was a world leader in technology, and it was doing it on a far smaller budget than capitalist US.

While it’s true that mass scale exploitation under capitalism can increase the amount labour that’s generated, a lot of that labor ends up being applied towards things that have questionable value to society. As with your example of clothing production. Capitalist model creates a huge amount of waste because companies need to continue selling new clothing. A socialist model would simply produce less clothing that lasts longer, which is far more efficient.

@jwinnie
31Y

I’d argue that we have clear evidence that the communist model works quite well in the physical world. Consider what USSR managed to accomplish in an incredibly short period of time. Russia went from a backwards agrarian society under Tsarism, through the devastation of WW2, to being the first nation in space. USSR was a world leader in technology, and it was doing it on a far smaller budget than capitalist US.

I would argue that the USSR was not truly communist or socialist since it also exploited workers - it was just the government exploiting workers, instead of private corporations. Russia’s rapid industrialization was due to the fact that Stalin was literally willing to mass murder peasants who didn’t give up all their grain to the government so the government could give it to factories and industrial projects - a policy that was incredibly brutal, but worked.

A pattern I’ve noticed in history is that the speed of industrialization is dependent mostly on how much state power is aligned with the bourgeoisie (in “communist” countries they may not call themselves the bourgeoisie but they certainly act like it, pursuing “development” and “progress” over all else). In Britain, the enclosure movement used massive state power to force peasants to give their land to large landowners to be farmed more efficiently and forced peasants into the city to take up miserable factory jobs. In the Soviet Union, Stalin’s forced collectivization and grain confiscation did the same. And today in China, the same is being done.

In many ways Marx was very right. Nobody but the bourgeoisie (or a “communist” party that acts like the bourgeoisie) can successfully pursue industrialization, because a (democratic) socialist government would never have the brutality and coercion required to successfully force a drastic and unprecedented change of lifestyle for the majority of the population.

While it’s true that mass scale exploitation under capitalism can increase the amount labour that’s generated, a lot of that labor ends up being applied towards things that have questionable value to society. As with your example of clothing production. Capitalist model creates a huge amount of waste because companies need to continue selling new clothing. A socialist model would simply produce less clothing that lasts longer, which is far more efficient.

Touché. Agree on that one.

@yogthos
creator
31Y

USSR was always meant to be a transitional state. ML philosophy is that you can’t just flip a switch and go from capitalist society to a fully classless worker owned society. The first step is to transition to a worker owned state, and then wither it away.

I also disagree with the notion that USSR exploited workers, at least in the same sense as capitalism exploits the workers. Nobody was getting rich off the workers in USSR. There was no generational wealth, and top pay was capped at 8x lowest pay. Politicians and administrators also weren’t the highest paid professions in USSR. Labour was predominantly directed towards socially useful work and the benefit of the state.

People like to point out that USSR was brutal and that the state directed resources. Yet, that has to be seen in a broader context where USSR was under the assault of all capitalist nations since the day it was formed. If USSR did not rapidly advance technologically and militarily, then it would’ve simply been destroyed. And we saw softer approaches, like the one in Germany, get sidelined by fascists. China is a in a similar situation today, where all of Western powers are actively working to destroy it. Without central planning it would be doomed.

Lenin specifically talks about this problem, and says that true socialism will only be possible after it becomes the dominant ideology in the world. As long as socialism is under threat of war, socialist countries have to have militant organization to survive.

I also find it interesting that most criticism of USSR tend to fixate on the Stalin era. This ignores the historical context where USSR went through a brutal war and was plunged directly into the Cold War right after.

However, it’s quite clear that quality of life along with personal freedoms continued to improve steadily with each decade. USSR in the late 80s was nothing like USSR in the 50s. To me this clearly shows that the system was working as intended because people’s lives were constantly improving. We simply don’t see a similar trajectory in vast majority of capitalist nations.

I’m open to suggestion as to how a better system could be formed, but I have not seen any working alternatives so far. The reality is that the world is ruled by capitalist empires that will actively work to tear down any socialist nations as soon as they form. Any more liberal alternative to Marxism-Leninism has to be able to defend against that.

@jwinnie
21Y

Nobody was getting rich off the workers in USSR. There was no generational wealth, and top pay was capped at 8x lowest pay. Politicians and administrators also weren’t the highest paid professions in USSR. Labour was predominantly directed towards socially useful work and the benefit of the state.

Do you have any unbiased, well-researched sources for this (not USSR propaganda)?

I’m open to suggestion as to how a better system could be formed, but I have not seen any working alternatives so far. The reality is that the world is ruled by capitalist empires that will actively work to tear down any socialist nations as soon as they form. Any more liberal alternative to Marxism-Leninism has to be able to defend against that.

The whole idea of “socialist nations” is very antiquated and impractical; instead of building “socialist nations” through violent revolution, we should aim for socialist spaces within the framework of a pluralistic society. If people can experience multiple systems of social organization for themselves, they will be able to decide for themselves which one is superior. For example, we should build free software (like Mastodon), we should build co-operatives and communes, we should establish info-shops and bookstores, etc. Eventually, when people realize that socialist societies can succeed at small scale, they will be more willing to support us, and our spaces will grow in power. Only at the point where the majority agrees with socialism can we begin talking about breaking away from the state, i.e. revolution.

@yogthos
creator
5
edit-2
1Y

I personally lived in USSR so I have a pretty good idea of what life there was actually like. There is also plenty empirical research comparing USSR to Western countries. Here’s a paper mostly relying on Western sources. Having experienced both communism and capitalism, I strongly prefer the former.

The whole idea of “socialist nations” is very antiquated and impractical; instead of building “socialist nations” through violent revolution, we should aim for socialist spaces within the framework of a pluralistic society.

I fundamentally disagree with that. To me socialism means that the resources and labour are primarily focused towards creating social value. Things like cooperatives improve the situation over traditional companies, but they don’t address the fundamental problem of majority of the labour in society being directed towards creating profit and only creating social value incidentally. I reject the idea of capitalism at its core. I think that the only necessary work that exists should be essential work that’s necessary for the society to function, and this kind of work should be minimized. People should be freed to spend their lives in a way that makes sense to them, and that’s not possible to do within the framework of capitalism.

@ybaumy
7
edit-2
9M

deleted by creator

@jwinnie
31Y

When people think of socialism they think of pictures of gray buildings and limited variety in clothes and consumer goods.

Are you sure? Because I think of something like this:

New Urbanism with public transportation

@ybaumy
3
edit-2
9M

deleted by creator

@big
4
edit-2
1Y

They usually say “markets are efficient at serving consumer wants” and most of those desires are manufactured if you ask me. Markets have to be regulated to offset big companies that want to cruise on inefficient monopoly-stifle-everybody-else mode for as long as possible.

What you are getting at touches on the element of competition, which brings differentiation to products so that they can be made in ways you find ethical at the price you are willing to pay, in this case also zero. The Open Source replicas come with all the fragility and concern for future maintenance and churn that is unbearable to ponder for most, so they accept ads into their life until something really worth changing to comes along.

Got to remember too, it’s easy to copy design decisions after they’ve been thoroughly tested for user stickiness. Things that seems simple in hindsight probably required great insight and gusto to confirm with the angry market, who don’t even know what they want (you know the Faster Horses Henry Ford quote). I have to keep reminding myself that the underlying tech piping is usually secondary… facebook could have been built in 1999 with the same tech but the ubiquity of access at the timing of actual release was simply perfect.

@yogthos
creator
31Y

It’s true that the commercial social media platforms introduce some novelty occasionally, but a lot of that is also inspired by existing ideas in practice. Discussion forums have existed for as long as the internet has been around. Meanwhile, a lot of the innovation introduced by companies like Twitter and Facebook is actively harmful to mental health. So, perhaps it’s not the kind of innovation we need in the first place.

I’d also argue the opposite regarding open source sustainability, and would go as far as to say that it is the only type of software worth investing into. No matter how great a commercial piece of software might be, sooner or later it’s going to either disappear or change in a way that doesn’t suit you. Commercial software has to constantly chase profit for the company to stick around. This necessarily means that the product has to continue evolving to chase what’s currently in vogue. And if a company fails to do that, then it will die and the software will stopped being developed.

This is a bad situation to be in as a user since you have little control over the evolution of a product that you rely on. Instead of the product being adapted to your needs, it’s you who has to adapt to the way the product evolves, or spend the time investing in a different product.

On the other hand, open source has a very different dynamic. Projects can survive with little or no commercial incentive because they’re often developed by the users who themselves benefit from these projects. Projects can also be easily forked and taken in different directions by different groups of users. Even when projects become abandoned, they can be picked up again by new teams. Mastodon is evolution of GNU social, which never got big, but stuck around despite its niche status because it had a community of people willing to maintain it. This would not have been possible for a commercial product where the company would’ve just gone out of business instead.

I will give Twitter some credit in the fact that running such a busy platform with international networks providing high availability, replication, mirroring, and caching is no simple feat from an engineering perspective. It is a bit more involved than spinning up a VPS with the latest version of Mastodon. On the other hand - yes - it is a very top-heavy operation with an inordinate amount of resources dedicated to developing and honing features which are harmful to the platform’s users, and marketing those anti-features to ad agencies, investors, and other malign actors.

It turns out that message boards are nothing new. People have been setting them up for their own enjoyment since the dial-up / packet radio BBS era. Many of the technical challenges in running massive platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter only became problems because these companies sought to monopolize the entire Internet and consolidate hundreds of thousands of subcommunities into one platform. Many of these challenges can be avoided through decentralization. This also frees up resources to respond to the needs of the sub-community rather than attempting to standardize and commoditize all forms of communication under a universal model.

@k_o_t
admin
4
edit-2
1Y

i often wonder what are those thousands upon thousand of people doing in companies whose software can be maintained by like 3 people 🤔🤔🤔

i don’t quite see how the inefficient structure of these companies can be attributed to capitalism specifically, but yes, very inefficient

Efficiency is usually attributed to capitalism because of how fast it can churn out products and make a profit. It’s only concern is to maximize profit margins and grow, though, so it’s only technically efficient at that. Think about how many redundant proprietary standards and products exist. Individually they exist and efficiently create profit for a company, but is it really efficient to have so many different things doing the same thing? Like do we really need to waste labour and resources on 50 different brands of bread, milk, toys, electricity, etc., when under a planned economy we can more efficiently distribute that labour and those resources for the benefit of all?

@yogthos
creator
41Y

Precisely, the key thing to remember that words like freedom and efficiency require context. Freedom to do what and efficiency to what end have to be the first questions when somebody starts throwing these terms around. All too often people assume that they’re the ultimate beneficiaries while in practice freedom and efficiency are reserved solely for the benefit of the business.

@koavf
41Y

Or, alternately, even within a firm, if decisions about production were made democratically by workers who owned the means of production, they would be a lot more likely to meet the needs of that firm’s actual work than if these kinds of decisions are made by persons in management whose goal is just to have growth by shoving widgets out the door as fast as possible in an effort to artificially enhance balance sheets. It’s not necessary to plan an entire economy by eliminating 47 out of 50 bread brands and award exclusive contracts to one or two producers, etc. (tho I guess you could argue that this may be advisable anyway) and this argument is a lot easier to accept.

@k_o_t
admin
11Y

I don’t necessarily agree with everything you’ve said, but for the sake of my mental health i really don’t want to engage in political discussions.

@yogthos
creator
71Y

I think a lot of the effort ends up going towards finding ways to monetize the users and to mine their data. The user facing functionality of Twitter is very straight forward, but I imagine far more effort id devoted towards analyzing and selling user data.

Those thousands of people are usually in marketing or advertising

@jsgohac
4
edit-2
1Y

If you have a kanban board, the business can keep adding features and each one you can consult with backend, frontend, data science, marketing and sales, growth and seo, infrastructure, etc. Then you can have lots of Meetings to discuss and coordinate and review how well the process is working. If things ever get slow, you can implement a new code review process and maybe bring in the legal team.

@AgreeableLandscape
mod
admin
4
edit-2
1Y

i often wonder what are those thousands upon thousand of people doing in companies whose software can be maintained by like 3 people 🤔🤔🤔

My guess would be marketing analysing the data they collected and $hit.

Dessalines
admin
2
edit-2
1Y

Kind of related, but this made me think of the Gervais principle, a really good essay looking at the show the office and analyzing how modern capitalist firms work.

@yogthos
creator
21Y

That’s absolutely brilliant!

@Doug
11Y

How exactly does Mastodon provide a “strictly superior user experience”? To prove I’m not biased or anything I deleted my Twitter a month ago and am now using Mastodon.

@yogthos
creator
31Y

I find the UI is a lot snappier than Twitter. I like the fact that you can have more than 200 char posts, but it truncates them so you expand for more. I like the way sensitive content works. I find the default column layout to be really convenient. I have a few hashtags pinned and it’s easy to follow them. I also like the fact that you can customize notifications so you only see replies and follows. I find that likes/retoots are just noise. Also, since Mastodon uses ActivityPub I can follow people from other services. For example, I follow some photography accounts from Pixelfed, and it might eventually allow me to follow Lemmy posts as well. These are just a few things off top of my head.

@wraptile
banned
-4
edit-2
1Y

What a strange argument. You cherry pick single project that is notoriously mismanaged.

Also fundamentally speaking it’s never claimed that capitalist is more efficient it just much more free system that provides more opportunities for efficiency, in other words you have bigger overall pie with capitalism rather than a bigger pie piece.

I think libre software can be capitalistic. Having more software with less copyright creates bigger market, bigger pie.

@yogthos
creator
51Y

Twitter is no more mismanaged than Facebook, Reddit, or any other commercial social media platform. All of these are giant companies that ultimately produce a relatively simple product from the user perspective. Meanwhile, all of the open source alternatives are developed with a small fraction of effort.

Also not really sure what specifically you refer to using the word “free” there. Free to do what exactly, and how does it create opportunities for efficiency exactly. You’re just throwing words around without any actual meaning here.

Meanwhile, the goal behind libre software is to keep the code in the open fostering collaboration instead of market competition.

@wraptile
banned
01Y

All of these are giant companies that ultimately produce a relatively simple product from the user perspective

You seem to be confused on what’s the actual product these companies are producing. They are selling brand name and accessibility (scaling).

Also not really sure what specifically you refer to using the word “free” there. Free to do what exactly, and how does it create opportunities for efficiency exactly. You’re just throwing words around without any actual meaning here.

Free as in freedom. The less red tape a process has the more accessible it is. Capitalism by principle is about lower the bar of entry for competition, more competition, more freedom, more actual work — bigger pie.

the goal behind libre software is to keep the code in the open fostering collaboration instead of market competition.

That’s only a minor goal, the main goal of libre software is to respect user’s freedoms as being forced to run unknown code on your machine is unethical.
Libre software also is compatible with market competition, in fact I’d argue that it’s a core principle of it — that’s what forking is.
Finally collaboration and competition are two sides of the same coin; what do you think collaboration is? What if my idea for project is at ends with yours? is that cooperation or competition? My goal is to introduce this feature, if you oppose me then we are directly competing , right? I fork the project and now we have two projects that are competing over market.

@yogthos
creator
51Y

Free as in freedom. The less red tape a process has the more accessible it is. Capitalism by principle is about lower the bar of entry for competition, more competition, more freedom, more actual work — bigger pie.

You seem to be confused on how capitalism works because capitalism is why we have copyright and IP laws that harm accessibility and innovation. The reality of capitalism is that as companies have an incentive to stifle competition, and big companies are in position to do that very effectively. No company actually wants to have competition, and free markets lead to massive consolidation as the winners end up devouring the losers.

That’s only a minor goal, the main goal of libre software is to respect user’s freedoms as being forced to run unknown code on your machine is unethical.

And that goal is achieved by keeping the code in the open which facilitates collaboration and the ability of the users to modify the code. I agree that cooperative competition exists in open source world, but it’s very different from market competition under capitalism. Capitalist competition is a negative sum game where in order for somebody to win somebody else has to lose. Open source is largely a positive sum game where different projects can learn and benefit from shared knowledge and resources.

I believe in capitalism, but trying to argue that Mastodon vs Twitter is not a good comparison seems like you want to cherry pick. I think the better argument in favour of capitalism is that it was the free market that allowed people to fund Eugene and all the other contributors to build the Mastodon network because that is what users wanted.

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