The economist’s term “public good,” about which I’ve been quite interested over the last few years is defined by negitives. Actually two double negatives!
- non-excludable, and
That kind of definition is the sign of science, or something. It certainly is the sign of struggling with an idea that’s outside of the normal world view – at least that of the economist.
If you wish to nurture a thing it’s best if you describe it with positive attributes.
I’ve been trying to find some for the public good. This is what I’ve come up with.
- nonexcludible -> abundant
- nonrival -> collegial
Things that are collegial and abundant – these are the public goods.
Those of us who strive to create an maintain public goods in various domains know that conflict and scarcity are the symptoms of a breakdown. People in these professions – libarians, teachers, CTOs, traffic engineers, mailing list moderators, standardization geeks, open source leaders – watch the the public good they steward. Smiling, watching, looking for congestion and whispering hush. Striving to untangle knots before they tighten up creating scarcity and arguments.
When I was a kid I read a book about knots. Where I learned this about tangles: “Never pull!”
See also: This nice essay, autobiographical, by the late Rich Gold – Plentitude.
One reason I’ve been muzing about this was a nice essay I read recently, a trip report. The author had sat in a room with some folks from the Linux community and some folks from the ISO. Now both these communities strive to create public-goods. So both groups held the others in some respect. But the author’s observation was that the ISO crowd was very diplomatic while the Linux crowd was very to the point. The ISO folks were deferential; not being the kind to pull. While the Linux guys were pushing, hard. He saw it as a strange and sadly incompatible mix.
Another example. I was talking to somebody who labors to create an abundance about his troubles with barriers to entry. At one point he voiced his frustration: “We work so hard to give this stuff away and all they do is complain. Never grateful.”
Grateful – yeah; that’s what the steward of public goods hope for.
Homework: Go find a the steward of one of the public goods who’s abundance you draw upon – say thank you.