Post Apartheid

Migration is Natural

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

'Migration is Natural' Mural
The mural pictured above is around the corner from where I live. I’m happy to find out that it means what I hoped — though I’d be surprised if the muralists didn’t arrive via some very different considerations. The Community Rejuvenation Project commissioned the mural and yesterday posted a photo of it with the following caption:

This piece on San Pablo by 60th st. is a collaboration between Pancho Pescador and Mike 360. The goal of this piece is to support natural migration and eliminate imaginary human borders.

Proud to have this in my neighborhood. Another visual advocating intellectual freedom nearby would make a tiny part of me feel complete.

I had not heard of before and have no opinion at this time concerning Wirikuta. Apparently some people view it as a holy site while others want to mine it. The atheist in me wants to disingenuously urge the full separation of the existing and non-existing universes, rendering any complaint about despoiling a holy site because it is holy as preposterous as believing in things that don’t exist. But I’m sure there are other, entirely naturalistic, concerns from both sides.

The world has summarily discarded vast systems of restrictions on the labor mobility of medieval serfs, slaves, women, South African blacks, indigenous Australians, and a long list of others.

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I highly recommend the paper Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? (pdf, summary) by Michael Clemens as well as a companion materials (mp3 interview).

Clemens surveys the small (four studies; I think I’d only heard of one of them) literature that has estimated the gains from removing all barriers to international migration. The estimates range from 67% to 147% of global product! Compare with summing high and low estimates for removing all barriers to international trade and investment: between 0.4% and 5.8% of global product. Yet the amount of attention given to these topics by economists is the inverse, and mostly from the immigration, rather than emigration side of the coin. At best a case of chasing easy precision over oomph (Clemens speculates lack of study could be due to obviousness, mercantilist/nationalist tradition, and lack of data).

I was happy to see mention of historical examples:

Of course, these elasticities could be different at much higher levels of emigration. The literature gives no clear support for such a pattern, however, even under greatly increased migration. In historical cases of large reductions in barriers to labor mobility between high-income and low-income populations or regions, those with high wages have not experienced a large decline. For example, wages of whites in South Africa have not shown important declines since the end of the apartheid regime (Leibbrandt and Levinsohn, 2011), despite the total removal of very large barriers to the physical movement and occupational choice of a poor population that outnumbered the rich population six to one. The recent advent of unlimited labor mobility between some Eastern European countries and Great Britain, though accompanied by large and sudden migration flows, has not caused important declines in British wages (Blanchflower and Shadforth, 2009).

“Brain drain” used an excuse for apartheid (it’s good for them!) makes me sad, but gladly the literature does not offer support for the effect, as I suspected. There’s a passing mention in the paper, and a bit more in the interview, concerning emigration from Sweden — Clemens says 1/3rd of the population left. The two citations in the linked Wikipedia article claim 20% and 33%, but probably cover different time periods. I’d like to see a comparison of annual emigration rates for various geographies at various times. Clemens also says that one can read anti-immigrant statements in U.S. newspapers a 100+ years ago that mirror those of today.

A couple other quotes from the paper:

economists should be open to the possibility that dramatic changes in what is practical can happen over several decades. After all, changes in geographic labor mobility that were unthinkable only a few decades ago have come to pass. Through the 1980s, a Polish national attempting to emigrate to West Germany could be shot by soldiers sealing the Inner German border from the east. Today, Polish jobseekers may move freely throughout Germany. The world has summarily discarded vast systems of restrictions on the labor mobility of medieval serfs, slaves, women, South African blacks, indigenous Australians, and a long list of others.


These initial results accord well with an entirely separate macroeconomic literature (for example, Hall and Jones 1999) which finds that most of the productivity gap between rich and poor countries is accounted for by place-specific total factor productivity, not by productivity differences inherent to workers. Large differences in location-specific total factor productivity mean that free movement of goods and capital cannot by themselves achieve the global equalization of wages, as they can in the most abstract trade models (O’Rourke and Sinott, 2004; Freeman, 2006, Kremer, 2006).

Place-specific total factor productivity can increase, and people in all places should strive to do so (best autonomously) — that’s approximately what “development” is about — results are very, very mixed. I wonder if various “open” things can’t help more than they do now, and will write about such eventually, but it’d be on the margin. And international apartheid is an abomination that should be eliminated immediately regardless of the long-term substitutability of development and migration.

The economics profession of the 20th century has taken a pass on migration, as they have on IP, with even more tragic results. Please change that! As his interviewer says, Clemens’ paper sketches a research program good for many Ph.D. theses.

Someday knowing the ins and outs of copyright will be like knowing the intricate rules of internal passports in Communist East Germany

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Said Evan Prodromou, who I keep quoting.

I repeat Evan as a reminder and apology. I’ve blogged many times about copyright licenses in the past, and will have a few detailed posts on the subject soon in preparation for a short talk at FOSDEM.

Given current malgovernance of the intellectual commons, public copyright licenses are important for freedom. They’re probably also important trials for post-copyright regulation (meant in the broadest sense, including at least “market” and “government” regulatory mechanisms), eg of ability to inspect and modify complete and corresponding source.

At the same time, the totemic and contentious role copyright licenses (and sometimes assignment or contributor agreements, and sometimes covering related wrongs and patents) play in free/libre/open works, projects, and communities often seems an unfortunate misdirection of energy at best, and probably looks utterly ridiculous to casual observers. I suspect copyright also takes at least some deserved limelight, and perhaps much more, from other aspects of governance, plain old getting things done, and activism around other issues (regarding the first, some good recent writings includes those by Simon Phipps and Bradley Kuhn, but the prominence of copyright arrangements therein reinforces my point). But this all amounts to an additional reason it is important to get the details of public copyright licenses right, in particular compatibility between them where it can be achieved — so as to minimize the amount of time and energy projects put into considering and arguing about the options.

Obviously the energy put into public licenses is utterly insignificant against that spent on other copyright/patent/trademark complex activities. But I’m not going to write about that in the near future, so it isn’t part of my apology and rationalization.

Someday I hope that knowing the ins and outs of both Internal Passports of the mind and international passports will be like knowing the rules of internal passports in Communist East Germany (presumably intricate; I did not look for details, but hopefully they exist not many hops from a Wikipedia article on Eastern Bloc emigration and defection).

Collaborative Futures 5

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

We finished the text of Collaborative Futures on the book sprint’s fifth day and I added yet another chapter intended for the “future” section. This one may be the oddest in the whole book. You have to remember that I have a bit of an appreciation of leftish verbiage in the service of free software and nearby, and seeing the opportunity to also bundle an against international apartheid rant … I ran with it. Copied below.

I’ll post more about the book’s contents, the sprint, and the Booki software later (but I can’t help noting now that I’m sad about not getting to a chapter on WikiNature). For now no new observations other than that Adam Hyde of FLOSS Manuals put together a really good group of people for the sprint. I enjoyed working with all of them tremendously and hope to do so again in some form. And thanks to Transmediale for hosting. And sad that I couldn’t stay in Berlin longer for Transmediale proper, in particular the Charlemagne Palestine concerts.

Check out Mushon Zer-Aviv’s great sprint finish writeup.


There is no guarantee that networked information technology will lead to the improvements in innovation, freedom, and justice that I suggest are possible. That is a choice we face as a society. The way we develop will, in significant measure, depend on choices we make in the next decade or so.

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom


Catherine Frost, in her 2006 paper Internet Galaxy Meets Postnational Constellation: Prospects for Political Solidarity After the Internet evaluates the prospects for the emergence of postnational solidarities abetted by Internet communications leading to a change in the political order in which the responsibilities of the nation state are joined by other entities. Frost does not enumerate the possible entities, but surely they include supernational, transnational, international, and global in scope and many different forms, not limited to the familiar democratic and corporate.

The verdict? Characteristics such as anonymity, agnosticism to human fatalities and questionable potential for democratic engagement make it improbable that postnational solidarities with political salience will emerge from the Internet — anytime soon. However, Frost acknowledges that we could be looking in the wrong places, such as the dominant English-language web. Marginalized groups could find the Internet a more compelling venue for creating new solidarities. And this:

Yet we know that when things change in a digital age, they change fast. The future for political solidarity is not a simple thing to discern, but it will undoubtedly be an outcome of the practices and experiences we are now developing.

Could the collaboration mechanisms discussed in this book aid the formation of politically salient postnational solidarities? Significant usurpation of responsibilities of the nation state seems unlikely soon. Yet this does not bar the formation of communities that contest with the nation state for intensity of loyalty, in particular when their own collaboration is threatened by a nation state. As an example we can see global responses from free software developers and bloggers to software patents and censorship in single jurisdictions.

If political solidarities could arise from the collaborative work and threats to it, then collaboration might alter the power relations of work. Both globally and between worker and employer — at least incrementally.

Free Labor

Trade in goods between jurisdictions has become less restricted over the last half century — tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade have been greatly reduced. Capital flows have greatly increased.

While travel costs have decreased drastically, in theory giving any worker the ability to work wherever pay (or other desirable quality) is highest, in fact workers are not permitted the freedom that has been given traders and capitalists. Workers in jurisdictions with less opportunity are as locked into politically institutionalized underemployment and poverty as were non-whites in Apartheid South Africa, while the populations of wealthy jurisdiction are as much privileged as whites in the same milieu.

What does this have to do with collaboration? This system of labor is immobilized by politically determined discrimination. It is not likely this system will change without the formation of new postnational orders. However, it is conceivable that as collaboration becomes more economically important — as an increasing share of wealth is created via distributed collaboration — the inequalities of the current sytem could be mitigated. And that is simply because distributed collaboration does not require physical movement across borders.

Workers in privileged jurisdictions will object — do object — to competition from those born into less privilege. As did white workers to competition from blacks during the consolidation of Apartheid. However, it is also possible that open collaboration could alter relationships between some workers and employers in the workers’ favor both in local and global markets.

Control of the means of production

Open collaboration changes which activities are more efficient inside or outside of a firm. Could the power of workers relative to firms also be altered?

Intellectual property rights prevent mobility of employees in so forth that their knowledge are locked in in a proprietary standard that is owned by the employer. This factor is all the more important since most of the tools that programmers are working with are available as cheap consumer goods (computers, etc.). The company holds no advantage over the worker in providing these facilities (in comparison to the blue-collar operator referred to above whose knowledge is bound to the Fordist machine park). When the source code is closed behind copyrights and patents, however, large sums of money is required to access the software tools. In this way, the owner/firm gains the edge back over the labourer/programmer.

This is were GPL comes in. The free license levels the playing field by ensuring that everyone has equal access to the source code. Or, putting it in Marxist-sounding terms, through free licenses the means of production are handed back to labour. [...] By publishing software under free licences, the individual hacker is not merely improving his own reputation and employment prospects, as has been pointed out by Lerner and Tirole. He also contributes in establishing a labour market where the rules of the game are completely different, for him and for everyone else in his trade. It remains to be seen if this translates into better working conditions,higher salaries and other benefits associated with trade unions. At least theoretically the case is strong that this is the case. I got the idea from reading Glyn Moody’s study of the FOSS development model, where he states: “Because the ‘product’ is open source, and freely available, businesses must necessarily be based around a different kind of scarcity: the skills of the people who write and service that software.” (Moody, 2001, p.248) In other words, when the source code is made available to everyone under the GPL, the only thing that remains scarce is the skills needed to employ the software tools productively. Hence, the programmer gets an edge over the employer when they are bargaining over salary and working conditions.

It bears to be stressed that my reasoning needs to be substantiated with empirical data. Comparative research between employed free software programmers and those who work with proprietary software is required. Such a comparison must not focus exclusively on monetary aspects. As important is the subjective side of programming, for instance that hackers report that they are having more fun when participating in free software projects than they work with proprietary software (Lakhani & Wolf, 2005). Neither do I believe that this is the only explanation to why hackers use GPL. No less important are the concerns about civil liberties and the anti-authoritarian ethos within the hacker subculture. In sum, hackers are a much too heterogeneous bunch for them all to be included under a single explanation. But I dare to say that the labour perspective deserves more attention than it has been given by popular and scholarly critics of intellectual property till now. Both hackers and academic writers tend to formulate their critique against intellectual property law from a consumer rights horison and borrow arguments from a liberal, political tradition. There are, of course, noteworthy exceptions. People like Eben Moglen, Slavoj Zizek and Richard Barbrook have reacted against the liberal ideology implicit in much talk about the Internet by courting the revolutionary rhetoric of the Second International instead. Their ideas are original and eye-catching and often full of insight. Nevertheless, their rhetoric sounds oddly out of place when applied to pragmatic hackers. Perhaps advocates of free sotftware would do better to look for a counter-weight to liberalism in the reformist branch of the labour movement, i.e. in trade unionism. The ideals of free software is congruent with the vision laid down in the “Technology Bill of Rights”, written in 1981 by the International Association of Machinists:

”The new automation technologies and the sciences that underlie them are the product of a world-wide, centuries-long accumulation of knowledge. Accordingly, working people and their communities have a right to share in the decisions about, and the gains from, new technology” (Shaiken, 1986, p.272).

Johan Söderberg, Hackers GNUnited!, CC BY-SA,

Perhaps open collaboration can only be expected to slightly tip the balance of power between workers and employers and change measured wages and working conditions very little. However, it is conceivable, if fanciful, that control of the means of production could lead to a feeling of autonomy that empowers further action outside of the market.

Autonomous individuals and communities

Free Software and related methodologies can give individuals autonomy in their technology environments. It might also give individuals a measure of additional autonomy in the market (or increased ability to stand outside it). This is how Free and Open Source Software is almost always characterized, when it is described in terms of freedom or autonomy — giving individual users freedom, or allowing organizations to not be held ransom to proprietary licenses.

However, communities that exist outside of the market and state obtain a much greater autonomy. These communities have no need for the freedoms discussed above, even if individual community members do. There have always been such communities, but they did not possess the ability to use open collaboration to produce wealth that significantly competes, even supplants, market production. This ability makes these autonomous organizations newly salient.

Furthermore, these autonomous communities (Debian and Wikipedia are the most obvious examples) are pushing new frontiers of governance necessary to scale their collaborative production. Knowledge gained in this process could inform and inspire other communities that could become reinvigorated and more effective through the implementation of open collaboration, including community governance. Such communities could even produce postnational solidarities, especially when attacked.

Do we know how to get from here to there? No. But only through experimentation will we find out. If a more collaborative future is possible, obtaining it depends on the choices we make today.

Occupation ethics

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Philippe Legrain:

British troops are dying in Afghanistan because the government deems the Taliban such a terrible threat.

Yet those who flee the Taliban and the war are denied asylum in this country.

This is an outrage.

The outrage applies to the U.S. with some multiplier (also in Iraq). The least an occupier could do is to offer speedy asylum. However, I don’t think asylum is enough — invader/occupier jurisdiction citizenship, granted on demand, should be the baseline.

Underprivileged Americans

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Keith Wolfe, Global Mobility Manager (cool title) writes on the Google Policy Blog:

Google hires employees based on skills and qualifications, not on nationality.

Great, Google doesn’t have an apartheid hiring policy. They aren’t actively doing evil. So they’re in a similar camp with South African businesses who didn’t want to hire based on race, but failed to stop Apartheid. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t mind pandering to neanderthals who think Amurricans deserve some kind of advantage:

Other commenters suggested that Google should fund education for underprivileged American students, to better prepare American students to fill technical jobs. We agree

Underprivileged Americans (by which they certainly and unfortunately mean U.S. citizens)? Please.

Google also says the cap on H-1B visas is “artificially low.” More pandering. Any cap at all is “artificial”, as is any limit at all on the legal ability of any human from working anywhere they’d like to for a willing employer.

Global mobility with no artificial restraints — abolish international apartheid. Surely Google can take a stronger stand than mine owners in South Africa did a century ago.

California nightmare

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Some of the best points are blindingly obvious. Will Wilkinson on good peopleracists who advocate apartheid:

Presently, whites are well less than half the Cailfornian population. Hispanics make up just more than a third. Asians at 12 percent are nearly double the black population. I’d guess it won’t be long before Hispanics pass whites to become a plurality.

Now, if my fearful commenters aren’t simply making things up in their paranoid dreams, wouldn’t California be a complete disaster already? Of course, we all know that, were it a country, California would be the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world. The median household income in California, $54,385, ranks 11th in the U.S., and would put California right near the top of the world rankings.

More data: California population born in a non-U.S. jurisdiction: 26.9%, entire U.S.: 11.8% (excluding California should be about 9.8% for the proper comparison).

Some people do think California is a giant burning parking lot, but that isn’t remotely true, even relatively. There are things to dislike about California (e.g., San Francisco is a pathetic parochial town instead of Sanhattan, Scientologists in LA), but approximately none of them have anything to do with the presence of non-U.S. citizens. I’ll take California over Oklahoma (4.2%) any day.

The American citizen race

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Where have the immigrants gone? in the Chicago Tribune on the impact of Oklahoma’s new apartheid law, HB 1804, the Oklahoma Taxpayer and Citizen Protection[ist] Act:

“You really have to work hard at it to destroy our state’s economy, but we found a way,” said state Sen. Harry Coates, the only Republican in the state Legislature to vote against the immigration law. “We ran off the workforce.”

No, they didn’t run off the workforce, they kept the American citizen race pure:

Carol Helm, director of Immigration Reform for Oklahoma Now, says the Oklahoma law was necessary to stop a burgeoning population of illegal immigrants from “multiplying faster than the American citizen race” and overwhelming the state’s social services.

I’d like to offer Helm amnesty.

According to the article, HB 1804 does the following:

  • Makes it a felony to harbor, transport, conceal or shelter unauthorized immigrants
  • Restricts access to driver’s licenses and identification cards
  • Terminates several forms of public assistance
  • Expands authority of local law-enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law
  • Requires verification of employment eligibility using a federal database

Tear down this fence!

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

It may not last, but the breaching of the Gaza-Egypt border for voluntary movement and trade is a wonderful thing:

Official reaction to the day’s events ranged from dismay to embarrassment to outright anger.

For ordinary Gazans, it was a day of joy and plenty.

“Freedom is good. We need no border after today,” said Mohammed Abu Ghazal, a 29-year-old out-of-work Gazan.

Of course the Gaza border is atypical in many ways and at least initially this breach will satisfy pent up demand for goods and travel rather than provide opportunity for labor, but the release of this demand paints the ongoing massive cost of borders in vivid fashion (if there were no cost the opening of a border would result in no border crossings).

Ron Paul Hatevolution

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

I’ve been asked or told about Ron Paul many times over the last months, usually on the assumption that I’d respond positively. It always pained me to explain that while I broadly agree with Paul on policy (with some glaring exceptions like immigration and abortion), I could not work up significant enthusiasm for the campaign, nor even support it (apart from joining his Facebook group, which I’ve left).

First, Paul’s supporters wildly overestimate the chances of the campaign’s success, whether that be election, nomination, or even just effectively growing the constituency for freedom. He never had any chance of winning and I’m happy for the demonstration that merely speaking the truth on national TV doesn’t change anything. Of course many libertarians will ignore that truth and continue throwing money at false hopes.

And while there were bright spots, Paul was an extremely problematic messenger for freedom. He’s a marginal kook, he attracts hardcore kooks, and the fundamental basis of his argument — the U.S. constitution as holy writ — is about the least interesting and least convincing argument possible. In other words, Paul is an embarrassment. (Of course almost every politicianhuman spouts nonsense almost continuously, but more or less conventional nonsense that is not accorded the kookiness factor richly deserved.)

However, I had no idea how problematic and embarrassing Paul would be. While it is conceivable that Paul is not a racist and did not write any of the racist items in his newsletter and did not authorize or know about any of those items, I assign these probabilities ranging from medium to almost nil. Paul’s response is evasive and painful to watch, despite his attempt to redeem himself by focusing on the drug war.

If you really need to read more go here. I urge anyone who has supported Paul in public or private to reverse that support, immediately.