Harnessing creative talent

Well, actually, paying for creative talent. The old model was capitalism – get a job, get paid for it. The newer model is Open Source – Wikipedia, Linux – volunteer, do it for free. Obviously(?) this is not sustainable; in the end, you have to have money to buy groceries. Where does this money come from? No one has launched a startup business based on editing Wikipedia. To support their habit of editing Wikipedia.

Open Source, Wikipedia, Linux aren’t just habits, they can border on obsessions. Every amateur psychologist knows that engineers are powered by autistic behaviors.  Small-market capitalism (medieval-era market capitalism) worked great, if you were obsessive about candle-making and shoeing horses. Medieval lords and ladies, the landed gentry, were for the most part economic leeches. Maybe providing some military security. Maybe a judge and a courtroom. Only a tiny percentage used their wealth to pursue higher studies – divinity, law, and what we now call science. Market capitalism never paid for science, except for a brief golden era of 1945-1975 when corporations ran R&D departments. Science is partly funded by Universities, but mostly by government grants. Anyway, writing grant proposals is an odiously unpleasant task.

And no one has written an NSF grant asking for money so that they could edit Wikipedia.  Or write open-source software (well, outside of some narrow scientific usage). Yet these activities are recognizably beneficial to society.

This essay is an exercise in hand-wringing:

  • How do we fund socially beneficial behavior in an increasingly knuckle-headed political environment?
  • How do we reach political agreement on what constitutes socially beneficial behavior?

Well, I guess I could sign up for an account on Patreon. Do you think my fans will pay for exclusive early access to physics research results? Or maybe the exclusive privilege to read blog entries like this? What makes you think I have fans? Do you think that sounds far-fetched? Thought so.

Patreon requires you to create content that is mind-blowing enough that you can nurture actual fans. Wikipedia and Open Source don’t fit into that category.


Pull on this thread, and you get nowhere at all. You hit the wall. Capitalism as-we-know-it. Is there an alternative?  Yes there is! The first hints of an outline is in my next (earlier) essay: Post-Capitalist Political Economy.

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