Editor's letter

There are no limits to ownership

Jurriaan Kamp | March 2006 issue

In working on this issue’s cover story on ownership, we looked into the topic of “open source.” The term refers to an approach used in the software industry to make source codes for computer programmes accessible to everyone. This “shared ownership” means the programmes can be developed and improved collectively (see page 40). We considered elaborating further on this subject by reprinting an article that previously appeared in the technology magazine Wired. But it turned out that the American publisher was not prepared to give us the copyrights to this article on the open-source approach. An interesting paradox: copyrights to open source…

In this issue, Jonathan Rowe reflects on the privatization trend currently seen around the world. Private property is being treated as sacred and public interests are increasingly getting pushed aside as a result.

I have always seen the advantage of ownership. If you own your home, you take good care of it as a way of saving for the future. If you rent, the stakes are lower and you’ll tend to take less care. When the leasing culture emerged in the early 1990s, it struck me that people were more careless with their cars. After all, the leasing company would take care of any damage and, if necessary, even arrange for a new car. Ownership is better, I would have said back then. And by the way, Communism’s “Everything belongs to everyone” philosophy didn’t exactly create inspiring examples.

Yet there are limits to ownership. You have to wonder when pharmaceutical companies start privatizing the wilderness in search of new medicines, or when farmers in India have to pay multinationals for seeds they used to generate themselves, or when poor people in developing countries have to pay for the water from their pumps. Let alone the peculiar trend of putting public spaces and institutions in the hands of the private sector. It’s all starting to look a lot more like greed than sound economic policy.

This was not always the case. Rowe quotes Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers, who was also famous for his inventions. “As we greatly benefit from the inventions of others,” Franklin wrote some 300 years ago, “we should be glad to share our own.”

Wanting to serve others. That’s a whole different inspiration than wanting to own something in order to benefit from it.

And, if this article can be of service to you, please don’t hesitate to use it and publish it. It isn’t subject to copyrights.

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