Christian Love, Public Goods, and Open Source

“Public goods” is the economics idea of something that benefits everyone and can’t be denied to anyone. The schoolbook example of a public good is a lighthouse, by some scary rocks in the sea. When the lighthouse is working, every captain, and not just those who helped pay for the lighthouse, enjoy the benefits of seeing in the nights. All boats become safe, and not only those ships whose owners have paid.

Another example of a public good is national defense. Everyone, common citizens, soldiers, and criminals, enjoy the military’s protection from foreign armies. Sure, the government can come after you in other ways if you don’t pay your taxes, but there is no way for the government to allow the barbarian horde to enter your home without allowing it to enter our national borders, as well.

Interesting, the Bible describes hatred as destroying public goods. In Malachi when God famously loves Jacob but hates Esau, hatred is operationalized by destroying things that all of Esau’s people would have enjoyed…

And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.

Whereas Edom saith, “We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places”; thus saith the LORD of hosts, “They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. “

Pretty heavy stuff.

Esau’s people lose the public good of collective security — they experience hate.

And so you don’t think this is just part of the Old Testament forgotten by the kinder, gentler Christians, Paul repeats the story in his Letter to the Romans. Yes, the same Paul who emphasized Love as the core of Christianity.

God’s providing us with a clue on the meaning of love and hate. Hatred means, among ohter things, destroying public goods. Love means, in part, building public goods. A loving, Christian government would thus build infrastructure, such as lighthouses. A loving, Christian government would thus bring security to the people with an army. But both lighthouses and armies fall short of a true love, because both involve taking things away from others in order to provide it to the public. Thus, true love by the community would involve generating public goods without the use of taxes — without police powers. “Forced love” is called rape.

A more loving public good are the open-source word processes and document formats. These are free, universally available, tools that allow professional word processing, spreadsheet calculation, and presentations. They have no marginal cost and no fixed cost. They are available to all people in all places, weather students or lawyers, Rwandans or Americans. OpenDocument is a public good. OpenSource OpenDocument is a public good. Encouragint the widespread adoption of the open source OpenDocument technology is as simple as using OpenDocument-compatible tools, such as free-as-in-speech OpenOffice and free-for-use Google Docs & Spreadsheets. Quiet evangelism, such as making your originals in ODT and sending those alongside Microsoft Word DOC files, helps.

But the government can help the people — all people — too. Recently, California became the fourth state to consider requiring that “all documents, including, but not limited to, text, spreadsheets, and presentations, produced by any state agency shall be created, exchanged, and preserved in an open extensible markup language-based, XML-based file format.” For little or no extra cost, California may liberate millions of Californians from the rentiers (ron-tyays) at Microsoft. Even better, the spread of this technology in California would have viral effects, ultimately making everyone’s information easier to make, easier to store, and easier to read.

4 thoughts on “Christian Love, Public Goods, and Open Source”

  1. Curtis,

    Thanks!

    I like your post on the Letter to the Romans. Especially the concluding lines, which include the stumbling block analogy:

    “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.”

    This set's up the “can't look away” subversive love [1,2] that would characterize the Christan 4GW attack. The Christian goal was not to stumble others — not to trip them down — but to help them continue (walk with them)…. on a Christian path.

    Paul's words that “no food is unclean in itself” not only served to prevent the schism of the Roman Church into Jews and Gentiles, but also allowed the Christians to “embrace and extend” whatever cultural relics they happen to find.

    [1] http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/2007/02/why_the_yin_disconnects_from_t.html
    [2] http://www.fifthgeneration.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2007/02/a_kinder_gentler_war.php

  2. interesting, Dan. i don't disagree.

    do you propose government behave lovingly in national defense, interstate commerce, etc. without using taxes? if so how?

  3. Sean,

    Rerum Novarum (1891) [1], by Pope Leo XIII (b. 1810, 1878-1903), is the Church's central document on economics. It reads, in part:

    “Now a State chiefly prospers and thrives through moral rule, well-regulated family life, respect for religion and justice, the moderation and fair imposing of public taxes, the progress of the arts and of trade, the abundant yield of the land-through everything, in fact, which makes the citizens better and happier.”

    Moderation means not too low and not too high. The harms of high taxes are well known. Howver, the only states that are able to get away without taxes are rentier regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Freedom the people from responsibility for their wants is a recipe for the welfare extremism that is currently so typical of oil culture.

    [1] http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum_en.html

  4. “Moderation means not too low and not too high.”

    Question is, how can you tell where the balance point is? Some people think taxes are too high, others think they're too low. Do economists have a means of figuring out who's correct?

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