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How Open Technology Could Lead Us Out Of Recession

Date/Time Permalink: 03/29/08 11:39:55 am
Category: General

Well, here we all are in the USA, on the brink of market panic. Every other headline and news story is bemoaning our dark economic climate. Layoffs, bankruptcies, and lost jobs galore, plus a weakened US dollar and a continued expensive war campaign, all are lining up to create a "perfect storm" of market downturn.

Now, the government can certainly play with their little "economic stimulus" packages all it wants to, but the solution isn't giving everybody a few hundred dollars and a wish for good luck. We need to re-awaken the job market, and a way to do that is to create new opportunities where none existed. Let's see here: is there a sector where we can do this? Ah, yes, science and technology! Here's some suggestions that could boost our national earning power:

Patent reform: I know that full patent reform is beyond all hope, but we could at least amend it. Apply a new law which makes a patent void if the patent-holder does not manufacture and sell a product that directly utilizes the patent. In other words, if you own the wheel patent, and there are no wheels made by you for sale today, then you lose the patent tomorrow.

Economic benefit: Reduce patent trolls' choke-hold on industry. Redirect money to production instead of litigation.

Education reform: Mandate the teaching of basic computer science as an elective in every school. While we certainly don't need to force everyone to know how to write their own operating system, they should at least understand the basic components, an overview of programming, computer security, and how it all works together. And what happened to those classes where you build your own radio? Building your own computer is a matter of about nine parts (motherboard, processor, fan, power box, RAM stick, graphics card, ethernet card, hard drive, CD-Rom drive), and can be completed in an hour with a couple of size of screwdriver. And when you're done, you know that fairies and elves aren't what make it go!

Economic benefit: A workforce with the skills to take on the increasingly technical job market. How many millions could we save companies if we just didn't have to explain 100,000 times per day that opening an email attachment called "Live-College-Teens.jpg.exe" is a bad idea?

Software reform: Is it too much to ask to require that all hardware sold in the United States has open specifications released to the public, all media formats to be open, and all software be open source? Many countries out there are considering the same thing. Governments are adopting these standards around the world. This would not change our market at all, it would just require technology companies to live up to the same standards we already hold the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries to, in the mutual interests of public safety and fair business practice. People will still buy stuff, even if it was gift-wrapped in a print-out of the source code.

Economic benefit: A level playing field in the technology market, allowing for more even wealth distribution. Also to make a more secure nation, and to save industry the trillions of dollars wasted on failing, crashing technology.

Media reform: Abolish the MPAA and the RIAA. That's all!

Economic benefit: Encourage entrepreneurs and artists to participate in the thriving independent market that would result. Why do we need anybody to stand between the artist and the audience at all?

Net neutrality: Net neutrality is to Internet commerce as open source and open specs would be to general computing commerce. Not much to explain here - net neutrality is a hot debate. Why don't people understand that keeping all technology open and fair is just as important as keeping the net open and fair?

Economic benefit: Keep the Internet an equal-opportunity business sphere for everyone.

...well, these are solutions, and as far as I can see they're just as viable as any plan I've heard out of anybody on TV lately. If more officials really cared, there'd be more discussion along these lines.

Throughout American history, times of economic stagnation have only been successfully overcome by encouraging more people to "be their own boss". In the last big market bust, the recession of 1991-1993, franchised businesses helped lead us out of it, because it allowed entrepreneurs to found their own businesses instead of relying on the unstable job market. Today, we have entrepreneurs, freelancers, and independent artists who are shut out of business by the monopolizing robber barons of digital media, to the point where we have perfectly good talent who prefers to give their production away because they can't afford to break into the business market with the rules as they are.

At the same time, the United States has not only lost its former dominance in world technology, it is rapidly achieving a status of "a nation of shopkeepers".

We need to remove the barriers to entering the market. We need to be the innovators in science and technology again. We need to regain the excitement we had about scientific progress back in the 1940's and 1950's. We need technicians in white lab coats, and we need to look up to them because they are giving us wonderful things like atomic power and trips to the moon again. We need kids to be excited about getting a chemistry set again. We need to let those garage start-ups break out of that garage and open up their own factory. We need to bring back homebrew computer clubs. We need people who can say that they know something about computers besides how to turn one on.

In short, we need more geeks. Geeks make money.

blatantly generic, conservative sig

- That phrase is a sideways reference to The Wealth of Nations, FYI.

UPDATE: 4/7/08 - Oh, and now they're shutting down Student Loans. Isn't that just what we needed?

(update): Bret Taylor also favors lowering barriers to entry as a way to stimulate innovation. Yes, making more data publicly available would also incidentally benefit the economy by freeing more knowledge to find its way into the hands of those who can do something useful with it. So count that as a half-point to this post.

update 4/29/08: And now Warren Buffett is also saying that this is shaping up to be more than your garden-variety economic downturn. That gels with everything I've seen. Watch the economy for a while, and you'll notice the cycles. When many cycles come together in the same trough at the same time, they magnify their effect.

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