As many of you know, I work on Open Source Software (OSS). This means I release several projects free of charge that I create using my time. I’ve gotten a large amount of appreciation from users, but there is another side that’s quite disturbing. What’s worse is it appears to be indicative of a far more serious problem.
Often a user will ask for a feature that is not implemented. Sometimes I like the feature and it’s something I’ll use myself so I implement it immediately, sometimes it’s one I’ll work on if I have time, and other times I don’t care for it at all so I suggest that others work on it. I take a similar response to bugs, but with respect to whether I can reproduce it. Bugs I cannot reproduce nor fix tend to go unchanged. Most take these responses in stride, but there are some who do not, in particular, those reporting an issue that I cannot reproduce, and fail to give me the required information. A few of these, whom I will call the demanding consumer, demand their wishes to be met entirely at my cost in terms of time and effort. In the past few years, I’ve noticed this group grow in size.
Why are some people so demanding? In the case of an demanding OSS user, they take a free product, make their suggestion, it’s shot down, they become more irate and demanding, and often get to the point of insulting the producer. This is akin to someone receiving a gift from a complete stranger, declaring that it wasn’t good enough, and demand more. I, being the complete stranger, am now less inclined to give out gifts as a result out of fear that some demanding person will require more of me than I’m willing to give. How is it that people have become so greedy that they cannot be appreciative of something that was given to them for free?
What’s worse is these attitudes are not limited to Open Source Software. At least with OSS, the number of consumers of a product does not affect the producer’s costs (for the most part). If an OSS producer has 5 consumers or 5 million, his costs are largely unchanged, since software is easily and cheaply replicated. This has help build an OSS market with a small set of producers and a large set of consumers, and one that can survive a set of demanding consumers whose cardinality meets or exceeds that of the producers.
What happens if the market isn’t OSS, but instead involving physical goods and capital. What if the market is not a free market economy, but instead is inhabited by a single producer who charges different consumers different amounts and provides different services and products? What if the consumer has no choice but to purchase the producer’s product? What if a majority of the consumers can change the products and services as well as the prices? I’m speaking of a government here, where the consumers are the people, and the payments made by consumers are taxes. Here, a demanding consumer can thrive, especially if his views are shared by a majority of the consumers. Furthermore, unlike the OSS market where a producer can ignore and deny services to demanding consumers, one cannot choose whether they wish to fund government programs.
Currently, only 59% of the US population pays federal income taxes. This is dangerously close to the 50% threshold. One can argue that once this threshold is crossed, it can never go back, the rational being that a representative is unlikely to raise taxes on the majority of his constituents. In addition, consider the social programs the government provides. Most of them are not targeted towards those who pay taxes, but rather towards those who do not, and the current administration seeks to increase these programs. Combine this with the ever present envy of the rich by those who are not, and the country is filled with demanding consumers. Their demands consist of: “give us more free stuff,” and “tax others to pay for it, not me.” The acquiescence to these demands yields a system where the minority is taxed heavily to pay for services given to the majority. Today, only 1% pays over 38% of the taxes. Tip the scales much more, and the paying minority, consisting of people who work hard and and good at their jobs, will see futility in their efforts to make a good living, and decided they will be much happier if they stop excelling or leave the country altogether. To compensate for this loss of revenue, the remaining minority will be taxed even further, and like a string of dominos, the best of a nation stop their hard work or leave. Everyone in the country is reduced to the lowest common denominator, and no nation can compete in the global market after losing its best.
While this is not wholly descriptive of our current situation, it could quickly become so. Getting our economy “back on track” is only solving the symptom, because true problem lies in the attitudes and expectations of the people. The perception of the American Dream has been corrupted over the years. Instead of the hope that through sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears, you can have a better life for you and your children, we have those who cry out for their share while contributing little to nothing in return. Some say that everyone is entitled to a house (an attitude which got us in this whole mess to begin with), but what authority has granted them such a right? We are granted the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the ability to pursue happiness that drove so many to this country, and that’s the dream which built this nation to superpower status. Without that hope, and the work done by so many to achieve it, the dream fades to the harsh sea of mediocrity.
Anonymous - Apr 2, 2009
I found your website via a link from Perian.org. Thanks for all of the work you’ve put into that program. Have you ever read Atlas Shrugged?
Graham Booker - Apr 10, 2009
Yes, I have read Atlas Shrugged, and a lot of what’s going on right now is reminding me of it.
GF Founder - Apr 16, 2009
Dear Graham, I really appreciate this article. In fact, I really appreciate the armies of smart app devs who unselfishly (for the most part) contribute to an amazingly robust world of OSS while much of the world passes by, oblivious to such a noble contribution. Okay, it’s sounding a bit cheesy, but you and your world of peers and colleagues need to know that your contributions are exemplary. As for the entitlement thing .. I read once that the poor will always be with us. I count these entitlement-seekers as a part of that crowd.
Graham Booker - Apr 22, 2009
Whether poor will always be with us depends on your definition of poor. One such definition is “lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society,” which leaves “standard considered comfortable” up to interpretation. Regardless, the fact that there’s scarcity of resources will result in a perpetual state where some do not have as much as others. The real issue I was getting at with this post was not that there are those who are poor, but rather those in such a situation who feel that they are deserving of more without putting forth the necessary effort.
Noah Coad - Jun 16, 2009
Great blog post! Insightful and useful links, thanks for sharing Graham.