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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Green Machine

Remember when Newt Gingrich wanted to give every inner city kid a laptop? Well, we're a lot closer to that happening (except for the Newt part, that is).

I'm sure lots of people have since seen stories about the "green machine," but Adam was the first to draw my attention to it at Mutualist Journal Club (see note). Nicholas Negroponte of MIT recently displayed a prototype of a cheap (production cost $110) laptop with very low power consumption and backup power from a hand-cranked generator. It's also open source, using a Linux operating system. Negroponte plans to have millions of them in production in the near future, with hundreds of millions eventually being distributed--especially to children in Third World countries.

This strikes me as an excellent example of the kind of empowering technology that mutualists favor.

And to answer the question that most of you are probably asking, yes, he's the brother of that Negroponte. If only by promoting the diffusion of open source software in the Third World, Nicholas is directly at odds with the very un-market and un-democratic vision of so-called "market democracy" to which his brother has dedicated his life. So in the big karmic bank account, the Negroponte family may actually come out slightly ahead.

I wonder--did Hitler have a brother?

Note--You'll probably be seeing more here about the Mutualist Journal Club in the next few days.

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Blogger freeman said...

The idea behind the "Green Machine" is a good one, but there appear to be downsides to this.

Over at Wendy McElroy's blog, Brad sheds some light on some of the problems.

November 22, 2005 10:10 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the link, freeman. I don't have much use for the top-down plans to distribute it through government and corporate bureaucracies, either. But the laptop itself is a good example of the potential for low-cost technology.

How many of the other consumer goods that have become necessities (i.e., automobiles) could be produced at a similarly low cost, if stripped of non-essential features and deliberately designed for durability and user-friendly repair?

November 22, 2005 11:56 AM  
Blogger freeman said...

How many of the other consumer goods that have become necessities (i.e., automobiles) could be produced at a similarly low cost, if stripped of non-essential features and deliberately designed for durability and user-friendly repair?

That's a good point. I would assume that many, if not most, consumer goods would fall into that category.

November 22, 2005 12:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I'm sorry you got that impression, Joe, because I found a lot of your comments on alternative energy and a decentralized economy based on it to be quite thought-provoking.

I'll admit I've been somewhat at a loss as to how to respond to the more abstruse, philosophical stuff, mainly because I didn't quite understand it. But please don't take that as a negative judgment. I'm just more oriented toward nuts and bolts stuff about politics and economics.

Good luck to you, too.

November 22, 2005 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 100 dollar laptop idea didn't strike me near so positively. I've nothing wrong with anyone producing and selling 100 dollar laptops.

The are two problems. The first is opportunity cost. Who is going to pay for these things? From the MIT website: "The laptops will only be distributed to schools directly through large government initiatives." So who is paying here? The governments of 3rd world countries or first world governments as "foreign aid" or both? Eiher way it seems less than the wisest use of the money (although granted i's very far from the worst use of government money).

The second problem is that the whole idea seems based on some highly questionable notions. It seems to assume technology alone will improving education. Negroponte says things like "The digital divide is a learning divide - digital is the means through which children learn learning." and the MIT website says "They [the labtops] are tools to think with". They are not merely making the assumption here that technology is a means to get information (which it certainly is) but that technology teaches how to learn and how to think. It's just not true. Yes, information on the topic can no doubt be found somewhere online, but that is quite different than saying it is *taught*. So some of the ideals this whole project is based on are odd indeed. That does not mean of course that it might not do some good anyway. Access to information alone is worth something. But I think we're back to the first problem. At what cost?

November 23, 2005 5:21 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


As I said in response to freeman, I don't think much of the government-corporate distribution system of the Green Machines. I just like the idea of affordable, user-friendly, hardware that's stripped down to basics.

And like you, I don't care for the traditional pedagogical approaches to computers as an accessory for schooling. They're a great self-directed *learning* tool, but that's an entirely different thing. I also like the potential of a computer networked populace to circumvent the traditional media and the government propaganda machine, and actually get news from each other. The decentralized activism networks I mentioned in another post are another possible unanticipated consequence, from the elite perspective.

November 24, 2005 9:05 AM  

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