Maintaining the Maintainers: Attribution as an Economic Model for Open Source

Sid Kasivajhula (any pronouns, commonly he/him, IRC: countvajhula,

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The following image shows where the talk is in the schedule for Sat 2022-12-03. Solid lines show talks with Q&A via BigBlueButton. Dashed lines show talks with Q&A via IRC or Etherpad.

Format: 20-min talk followed by live Q&A (done)
Discuss on IRC: #emacsconf-dev

Times in different timezones:
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~2:50 PM - 3:10 PM EST (US/Eastern)
which is the same as:
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~1:50 PM - 2:10 PM CST (US/Central)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~12:50 PM - 1:10 PM MST (US/Mountain)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~11:50 AM - 12:10 PM PST (US/Pacific)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~7:50 PM - 8:10 PM UTC
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~8:50 PM - 9:10 PM CET (Europe/Paris)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~9:50 PM - 10:10 PM EET (Europe/Athens)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~1:20 AM - 1:40 AM IST (Asia/Kolkata)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~3:50 AM - 4:10 AM +08 (Asia/Singapore)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~4:50 AM - 5:10 AM JST (Asia/Tokyo)
Find out how to watch and participate


00:00.000 Problems 00:18.840 Solution? 00:30.840 A common underlying problem 00:55.840 Capitalism 02:05.760 Copyright 03:49.840 An attribution-based economic system is efficient 05:01.760 Gyroscopes 07:45.200 Prototypes 09:05.920 Founding documents 10:05.920 Declaration of non-ownership 10:24.320 The financial model 11:23.240 The attribution model 12:49.120 The accounting system 13:59.920 Github account 15:17.600 Expanding the boundary 17:11.560 Adopting this idea 18:39.160 Closing thoughts 19:04.080 Taking care of one another


00:18.720 Short recap of what the talk was about? 02:09.280 What's the incentive to pay? 04:04.014 What do you think of projects like OpenQ? 04:23.305 Are you aware of SourceCred? 07:39.889 How is this different from money? 08:58.080 How would you approach a viable experiment for ABE? 10:33.999 How do you constrain the cognitive and time burdens of deciding the values of attributed contributions? 13:29.360 How are the attribution amounts calculated? 16:29.820 Synchronicity with Bastien's talk last year 17:28.960 What are your assumptions about human nature? 21:17.680 What is the URL of the project? 21:45.002 Check out the prototype, "Old Abe" 22:29.520 Closing Remarks 23:50.320 A flicker of light and following your curiosity

Listen to just the audio:


This talk is based on research on a new model for interactions in living systems, including human social systems, called identity architecture. The paper is available at this link: In particular, the sections on "Economic Systems," "Property," and "A Universal System" describe the rationale, underlying principles, and dynamical consequences of an attribution-based economic system. Follow its development at and support an ABE project near you!

The problem of supporting open source software and contributors is a pressing one, and one for which we don't have good solutions.

So many developers today pour their creative energies into freely-distributed works only to have those same works of passion turn into a pain in the neck when they find themselves eternally on the hook to provide support in exchange for minimal or no compensation, and often with limited assistance.

Fundamentally, the reason it's this way is that traditional economic systems operate on supply and demand as the basis of value. In such systems, open and unlimited availability translates into zero market value, and consequently, open source enterprises are not economically sound. Even in high profile projects, developers make a living purely through value added services rather than from the core of the value of their contributions – that is, from the code they wrote. Since, from a market value standpoint, that code is worthless.

Copyright and patents (not to mention proprietary software) are an attempt to address this within the existing economic model by imposing artificial scarcity in order to induce market value. In principle, they also provide safeguards against appropriation. On the other hand, the unlimited availability of creative works is a profoundly good thing from the perspective of maximizing value, and thus suppressing it is deeply misguided. Organizations like the Free Software Foundation have campaigned against such restrictions for some time now, for related reasons; nevertheless, the problem of providing a viable economic basis, aside from these crude attempts, remains unaddressed.

Attribution-based economics is a new model that aims to remedy this state of affairs by changing the basis of value from supply and demand to collective recognition. This is facilitated by a process of "inheritance attribution" where we collectively agree on the extent of inherence of ideas and works in other (e.g. derivative) ideas and works, by means of transparent and evolving standards. This model is capable of recognizing a much larger set of valuable contributions, including forms of value that cannot be coerced into a supply-and-demand equation. That is, in this model, there is no need to artificially restrict availability in order for something to be considered valuable. By virtue of the curious property that innovations on the process are themselves subject to the process of recognition in a self-reflective way, we gain accuracy, and by the property that agreed-upon standards apply equally to all, we gain fairness – guarantees that are at best tenuously present in today's economic systems.

This talk introduces some early experiments with attribution-based economics in the Emacs community, and some initial proposals that point the way forward on how, with your help, such a system might scale up to larger projects and communities far beyond open source.


Questions and answers

The initial questions below were answered live, and as they may be found in the live Q&A transcript, they are not fully transcribed below. The question on "human nature" has a more clear answer below, added after the fact. Following the live section is an extended Q&A section for the benefit of future readers who may have more questions.

Live Q&A

Q: This seems to assume that there will be $ contributions commensurate with the value of the project vs. everyone freeloading because there is no incentive to pay

A: This concept of economy will make all participants stakeholders, so there is an incentive to pay. There are a number of open questions, though, as this idea is new.

Q: Are you aware of projects like OpenQ ( Would that fit the model in your opinion?

A: Not familiar with OpenQ

Q: I see incredible amounts of overlap with the SourceCred system , where attribution of antecedents, graph of contributions, fair-in-hindsight backpropogation is built-in. Are you aware of SourceCred?

A: Not very familiar with it [answered in more detail live, but I've also added more on this after the live section of Q&A below]

Q: How is this different from money? Not in some abstract ownership vs attribution way. Open source funding is an incentive problem, which this does not change as far as I can see.

A: Money can be revisited in the future but maybe not immediately.

Q: How would you approach a viable experiment?

A: We have a Github Action that automatically creates the boilerplate of files and directories needed for the accounting. Further development through dialogue because of the many questions open.

Q: Given that the oversight is a social process, how do you constrain the cognitive and time burdens of deciding the values of attributed contributions?

A: We start with simple heuristics and first tackle the majority of issues.

Q: How are the attribution amounts calculated? (ORGA NOTE: restored from a prior version; welcome to remove if this was your question and you removed it intentionally)

A: Dialectical Inheritance Attribution (DIA), a social practice described in the talk. One heuristic strategy that will be used will be "Analyze, Appraise, Anonymize, Attribute."

Q: What are your assumptions about human nature vis. self interest vs. altruism?

A: In the live Q&A I meandered on this point, so let me answer more clearly here.

ABE does not assume anything about human nature. It is neither cynical nor idealistic. Rather, it achieves the goals I mentioned in the talk in a purely structural way, setting up the source of value in such a way (DIA) that emergent incentives align with the common good. The "common good" emerges as simply being the aggregate of desires in a particular context. Since selfish desires cancel out at a sufficiently large scale, the incentive resultant from DIA forms what is good for everyone rather than what is good for some, in other words, exactly what we mean by the common good.

Another way of saying this is that in an ABE system, you don't have to choose between being altruistic and being selfish. The more you give, the more empowered you are, and so, the more selfish you are, the more altruistic you'll be. As a result, it isn't useful anymore to see things in terms of selfishness and altruism.

In response to this, some may say, well then we won't get credit for being "truly" good. To them I would say, it's so much more important for our world to teach people to be better than for us to worry about who is "truly" good on their own. If our world lets selfish and parochial people become cruel and deluded and further the cause of hate and injustice, then we have failed them and each other. Even the worst among us has great capacity for good, and the wonder of ABE is that it could use them to do good, teach them to be good, a kind of "Aikido" that redirects their inclinations to align with (without being limited by) what everyone agrees is good. After all, if we teach moral lessons in the ivory towers of our churches, temples, mosques and synagogues, while also teaching by our actual practices and systems that selfishness and winning and being egotistical are good, then what results can we expect?

Q: URL of the project?


  • The founding documents for the prototype economic system are at

  • The accounting system which you can use in your projects (contains setup instructions) is at

  • The research on which this is based is at

Extended Q&A

The rest of these questions will be categorized under "ABE Now" -- relating to the prototype and practical considerations for adoption today, and "ABE Future" -- which discusses more philosophical issues regarding the nature and goals of the system.


Q: How is this different from splitting donations to my project with my partners?

A: In one respect it is dramatically different from that, and that is that creators are not required to participate in this process. Rather, it is a service provided to members of the community by members of the community. This shift may seem small on the surface, but it is precisely what lends this idea the power to solve the big problems I mentioned in the talk. There are two other differences, as ABE:

  1. Recognizes antecedents in both directions. It's not just sharing proceeds from your project with your buddies, but also sharing with creators whose works and ideas are reflected in yours. And likewise, it's others sharing proceeds from their projects with you.

  2. Encourages investment. It's easy enough to write a small project with your buddies, but when you have big dreams, you need big resources. If you are doing a startup in today's system, you divide "ownership" shares with your buddies and also with investors with deep pockets who can help you scale your project up to provide the maximum value. It's the same in ABE, except that anyone can be an investor simply by paying money to the project. This allows you to scale up your project by the support of ordinary mortals and not only "angels." It also means that every project will scale up to the right extent -- not too much and not too little -- because there are no incentives to wring value out of projects when there are more efficient ways to get the same amount of value -- there are no barriers to becoming an investor, after all. If your particular horse isn't winning, there is no cost, and indeed an incentive, to pick another horse rather than force your horse to win at any cost. Of course, in an ABE system, you don't own these horses, they aren't even competing, and there usually wouldn't even be a clear boundary between them!

Q: How is this different from SourceCred and OpenQ? When there are technologies and services like these around, why do we need ABE?

A: Systems like SourceCred are promising, and it's great that they're being developed. Technologies such as these will be indispensable to ABE's operations in the long term. At the same time, I want to strongly emphasize that technology is not the basis of the new system. Instead, the basis of ABE is dialogue and agreement. This is a central idea because it means that anyone who has ever contributed value, and anyone who is contributing value today, and anyone who will contribute value in the future, can rest in the safety of collective attribution and be recognized and empowered -- people like you. Aside from sharing your work, there is nothing technological that you need to do (e.g. record your contribution on a blockchain, or be part of a software project that is using an attribution-oriented compensation scheme such as SourceCred, or have patents on your ideas, or anything else) in order to be eligible to be recognized for what you did, are doing, and will do.

Q: What prevents bad actors from taking over?

A: There are many possible kinds of bad actor.

  • Those who use your project and don't pay.

For now, this is OK and expected. But as the system scales, becoming eligible to receive attributive payments means consenting to participate in ABE wholesale. So the more valuable a project is, the greater is its incentive to participate.

  • Those who will make improvements and sell independently instead of contributing back.

This person is operating under the assumption that they will be able to generate more money on their own than through others via well-established channels of attribution and use. This assumption is generally unlikely to hold.

  • Those who attempt to set standards that benefit themselves.

Because standards are set in an anonymized way, such self-serving standards are only likely to prevail on small scales where participants cannot be truly anonymous. At larger scales, this "Dialectical Mirror" ensures that these incentives cancel out ensuring that fair standards win over selfish ones. Additionally, since DIA is applied globally -- that is, the standards agreed upon in special cases are generalized to the maximum extent possible -- self-serving incentives in special cases would be negated by standards decided in the general case. To put this all in simple terms, "desires that benefit only oneself don't scale, desires that benefit all do." I call this the "Good vs Evil" principle. It is a very interesting mathematical property of an ABE system.

  • Those who do not report payments.

The ABE constitution requires that payments being reported is a collective responsibility -- both payers as well as payees can report it. Payers have an incentive to report it because it counts as an investment. Payees have an incentive to report it because being in non-conformance with the constitution can make the project ineligible to continue receiving attributive payments from the system.

But in general, yes it is important to put safeguards in place to protect against identified risks, and no doubt, there is a lot of work to do on this front. If you can think of such risks, you can help by bringing them up and/or helping to implement the necessary safeguards. We're all in this together!

Q: If in ABE some portion of payments to my project go to upstream projects, then isn't there less incentive for me to work on my project?

A: Some portion of your revenues go upstream, but by the same token, some portion of revenues of downstream projects come to you. Determining the precise proportions of value is not an easy problem, and it will take time and experimentation to arrive at the "sweet spot" for simultaneously incentivizing future work while fairly recognizing past work.

Q: I don't see a license on ABE projects. What gives?

A: Whether you have a license or not, and whether your project is proprietary or not, it is in all cases eligible to be recognized by ABE (but note that if your code is not open source, then there is less value there to be recognized -- constituting an incentive to release your code).

By virtue of this, having a license on ABE projects would amount to introducing something distracting which has no bearing on the process. Additionally, as ABE endorses non-ownership, that essentially puts these projects in the public domain. Projects that are not owned don't need licenses. After all, who would be in a position to issue such a license if no one has special privileges to begin with?

Q: OK, but why not use the Unlicense or Creative Commons?

A: Licenses like the Unlicense, well intentioned though they are, don't really help because they offer a glimpse at an open and free world that they don't provide any means of attaining, leading to complacency on the part of the user. To be fair, we owe such licenses a debt of gratitude as they have helped us get to the point where people are more receptive to the idea of non-ownership. But such crutches hinder us now -- if a potential user sees the Unlicense and if this vision of a free world takes the place of the need for a real solution in their minds, then no one is better off for it. On the other hand, a declaration of non-ownership is, to paraphrase Leo Vivier, a thread of curiosity that you can follow to reveal more complete answers. Follow that thread, friends!

Q: DIA sounds like an involved process. How can it be done efficiently enough to usefully keep up with the pace of contributions to a project?

A: We use an idea that we call "Renormalization," which I'll explain soon. First, the system, at least at the initial stages, assumes that preferences in the system are consistent. If a person says they like A better than B and B better than C, we assume that they will like A better than C. By making this assumption, we can reduce the hard problem of appraising the value of a contribution to a project to the problem of simply appraising its value in relation to any other single aspect of the project that has already been appraised, and then "renormalizing" (i.e. ensuring the proportions total to 1, or a 100%) the attributed proportions to include the newly created value. For instance, it's hard to say how valuable a particular bug fix is to a project, but it's much easier to say how valuable it is in comparison to another bug fix that was already appraised. So, once there is a seed of appraised contributions, it becomes much easier to appraise new contributions. Periodically, the process of DIA would be conducted afresh to apply the standards more rigorously. This is analogous to a similar algorithm followed in the field of robotics, where a robot navigating a large room can have a rough idea of its position even if it is unable to see its surroundings, by maintaining an internal model of its own movements until visual data is available. Likewise, we can maintain useful appraisals of the value of pull requests even before we have had a chance to conduct the full process of DIA, which may be done at a much less frequent rate (e.g. monthly or quarterly) than the frequency of contributions.

ABE Future

Q: You said ABE solves appropriation. How does it do that?

A: Appropriation is unfairly benefiting from someone else's contributions. It is an inevitable consequence of the power law distribution where more empowered members of society are in a position to disproportionately benefit from the contributions of others due to the "loudspeaker" that empowerment equips one with, leading to a kind of "double counting" in empowerment causing the rich to get richer in a general (not just financial) sense.

The current solution to this problem is to impose constraints on the freedom of such empowered individuals and groups in order to prevent their profiting in this manner from the cultural creations of marginalized groups and individuals. Yet, while constraining the freedom of others is sometimes necessary, it is rarely desirable. Additionally, this solution isn't very effective, since it is only able to address visible acts of appropriation, and comes nowhere near addressing the full scale of the problem. In truth, by the time creations have been appropriated over timescales of years, decades, and centuries, the knowledge that they ever came from the marginalized group has long faded, and, indeed, such a claim would scarcely be believable since the creation would have a long association with the empowered group in the mainstream -- a mainstream which, after all, is disproportionately shaped by that group. In ABE, since attribution is the source of value and empowerment, and since this is done in an anonymized way that has strong fairness guarantees, greater empowerment does not enable one to unfairly benefit from creations. Indeed, it encourages mass dissemination of cultural creations since the originators will be empowered by virtue of such dissemination, allowing them to create even more creations representative of their culture and traditions. In this way, it solves the problem of appropriation at every level of society, from contributions in a collaborative project to cultural creations at the scale of human society.

Q: You said ABE solves war. How does it do that?

A: War on the scale of nations is the same as fisticuffs on the scale of two blokes having a disagreement. It happens because of misaligned interests. The a priori "state of nature" of human interactions, and national interactions, is one where such misalignments may occur since these interests arise independently. Capitalism doesn't change the origin of such interests, and only pits them against one another on battlefield as a way for someone to get the prize. ABE invites us to reflect on those a priori interests and shows us that, if we all agree to "look in the dialectical mirror" before allowing these interests to interact in the world, we could modify these interests before the fact so that they align, by devising conventions, protocols, and standards that allow us to each get what we want. One such protocol is Dialectical Inheritance Attribution, which by virtue of a certain structural property (see "altruism"), allows us to place economic value on goods and services to the extent that they align with the common good. This removes the conditions for war in the great majority of cases. For the remainder, there may be other solutions to be found by looking in the dialectical mirror - it is full of illusion and wonder, and some say that all of our answers lie there for anyone who will peer far enough into its mists :)

Q: You said ABE solves poverty. How does it do that?

A: It may seem inconceivable that helping the poor could lead to financial rewards, but that's exactly what I'm saying an ABE system would do.

Response: That is a naive and idealistic position. According to your own statements, empowerment in an ABE system would be representive of true value contributed. Then, by definition, the poor are those who contribute the least value to society. If they don't contribute value, then how does helping them contribute value?

A: Even in the new system, although everything that is empowered would be good, not everything that is good would be empowered. People would be poor for many reasons. Sometimes it would be because they didn't contribute value, or because they caused problems for others. But other times, it would just be statistical accident, since the world isn't deterministic and things don't always go the way we expect. People may also be poor because we simply aren't able to discern the value in their contributions, though they may be valuable. After all, to use a timely example as it is Christmas time, many would say that Jesus contributed value to the world, and yet, he was poor, and it was a rudimentary system based on dialogue that saw him condemned to death. ABE cannot fully escape our capacity to make mistakes. But by recognizing helping the poor as a valuable activity, we allow such people to stand on their own feet and have a chance to create value in the future. No one would ever not be in a position to create value. Today, on the other hand, millions waste all of their time simply struggling to make ends meet, a neverending cycle that isn't conducive to creating value.

Response: But wouldn't it be more valuable to create real value directly, instead of helping those who may be unlikely to create such value?

A: Let me tell you about something I call the "Bhulbulaiyya Principle." The story goes that at one time in the past, the Indian town of Lucknow was struggling economically and there was widespread poverty. In response, its eccentric ruler decided to invent a project to engage the whole community -- the construction of a large maze (which is now called Bhul Bhulaiyya). The project, ostensibly a pointless one, created jobs for thousands and created downstream needs that created more jobs, so that the entire community came alive economically and all of their problems were solved.

Another name for this same principle could be the "Military Industrial Complex Principle," because, indeed, wars -- even the most pointless wars without a political goal -- are often good for a nation's economy.

So, when unambiguously "pointless" activities can be good for the economy in a capitalist system, it should not be so surprising that an activity like helping the poor, that is widely agreed upon as being good, would be good for the economy in an ABE system.

Q: In that case, what prevents freeloaders from just living off of the support of others?

A: Without even considering the structural inequities nor the dynamical tendencies (e.g. the cycles of addiction and crime) that are at play, an important factor in why people "freeload" today is that there are sharp discontinuities between being disenfranchised and being a self-sustaining and contributing member of society, resulting in a "chasm" that must be crossed by a force of will and fortune for the rehabilitation of those on the periphery of society. These discontinuities include (1) the finiteness of jobs, (2) the logistical and operational difficulties of managing the relationship of employment (on both sides), (3) the rigidity of the employment contract... among many other more subtle and deep-seated aspects. On the other hand, in an ABE system, if collective attribution of value created is the source of recognition in the form of money, employment is a superfluous concept as it is unnecessary to the process of value recognition and consequent payment. This significantly reduces the barriers to rehabilitation. Added to that, since the system also incentivizes working together, and is in principle able to recognize arbitrarily small contributions, the net result is the elimination of these discontinuities -- the "chasm" -- between being disenfranchised and being solvent.

Another thing is that the support of others doesn't only take the form of fulfilling the immediate needs of such would-be freeloaders. Rather, the greatest incentive is to help them in such a way that it puts them in a position to create value. Additionally, there is also an incentive to innovate on the ways of accomplishing this, so that we might expect there would be an entire industry around helping disenfranchised individuals in the most effective way as agreed upon collectively. All of these derive their value from recognition and attribution rather than supply and demand, so that even though, just like in a capitalist system, such methods and practices would be governed by financial incentives, in an ABE system these incentives would be aligned with the common good, so that it is structurally robust against abuse.

Q: Although you decry the Darwinian, winner-takes-all aspect of capitalism, it is a powerful incentive to innovate. If I don't have existential concerns in ABE, would I really be as intent on creating value? Are there sufficient incentives in ABE in comparison with capitalism?

A: Even setting aside for a moment that causing non-economical harm as a side effect of creating value is nowhere accounted in capitalism, in practice, only a small proportion of people in a capitalist society are truly creating the most value that they might. Most are coopted into established revenue streams because the system enables, and incentivizes, appropriating the talents of others less empowered than you, so that in a mathematical sense, even a small advantage for any individual actor leads to a biasing of local value to the maximization of value from the perspective of that actor, i.e. making the rich richer. That is, the system inherently has a second order effect of the rich getting richer, regardless of who they are, and this isn't based on something they do but is a dynamical property of the system -- it is because they are rich that they get richer.

The net of it is that the incentives to innovate in capitalism are quickly smothered by locally self-serving incentives. To see evidence of this, look no further than the hundreds of promising startups that are acquired by larger companies and then simply shut down, essentially constituting a bribe to these founders to stop competing with the larger company, and instead to help the larger company with its existing programmes -- effectively defusing the very innovation that competition is supposed to spark.

So capitalism, after all, isn't as good at innovation as we like to think. But what about ABE?

In ABE, I would say that the incentive to innovate is stronger because you can rest assured that you will be fairly recognized the same way as anyone else, without having to jump through hoops to get startup capital or resources of any kind, or have special "connections" or a "network" or worry about who can be trusted and who might take advantage of you, since anyone can be an investor and a simple payment to a project makes you one. Thus there are incentives in place for others to invest in value you have to contribute, and therefore for others to discover what you have to say, if indeed what you have to say is valuable. It frees you up to do precisely what you love and precisely what you are good at and precisely what contributes the most value, without your having to worry about any of the logistics since there are incentives in place for those logistical details to be taken care of by all. There will always be help at every stage, for any purpose, since it is all attributable.


  • Thanks. Love your license.
  • cue up a marxist analysis, and then shut down the proletariat? :D
  • If I was being told that this man is one of Protesilaos' long lost siblings, I would believe it.


[00:00:00.000] When we think about the problems of the world we see global warming, war, appropriation, poverty, and among numerous other problems, also the inability to make a living as an open source developer.

[00:00:18.840] Now this last problem may seem a lot less consequential compared to the other ones, but what if I told you that the solution to this problem and the solutions to the others are one and the same?

[00:00:30.840] And it's because there's a common underlying problem at the heart of all of these problems. I'm going to tell you what that problem is in one sentence. You ready for it? It is ... the deviation of market value from true value. Let's think about this in the context of existing economic systems such as capitalism and communism.

[00:00:55.840] And of these, I want to focus on capitalism because it is the only nontrivial economic system, really. Communism is more sort of a political means to achieve economic ends. And the other economic systems exist sort of on a spectrum between these two. So let's focus on capitalism. Capitalism has as its basis of value supply and demand. And consequently, there is a great emphasis on this idea of ownership. Now ownership is an idea that made some kind of sense when you have goods and services that are constrained in some way, that are essentially finite in supply. But when you have things like works of software, art, and music, which are essentially infinite in supply, the idea of ownership and supply and demand don't make sense anymore. And yet we employ the institution of property to constrain supply and introduce the idea of supply just so that we can induce a market value in terms of supply and demand in a capitalist economic system. And it's wrongheaded.

[00:02:05.760] How many of us have written copyright declarations like these on our work. It's a lot of work! Especially when we have version control. Now in this example, almost every line is written by a different person, so who owns the code in this case? Who owns the copyright here? Is it some of them, is it all of them, do they share it in some way? It doesn't really make sense, especially when the reason we're employing copyright and ownership in this case is to approximate the idea of attribution, which is what we really care about here. And that brings us to the nature of the solution, which is to move away from an economic system based on ownership and supply and demand, to an economic system based on attribution, instead. That is, moving away from who owns what to who did what and how important was it. And we can do this by the process of Dialectical Inheritance Attribution, which just means that we do it in a collective way using common collectively agreed upon standards that are applied transparently to all. And when we have an economic system that is based on attribution as the source of value in this way, we call it attribution based economics. Now, once we have that, it gives us fairness, effective empowerment of expertise, freedom through incentives rather than through coercion. And privacy as well.

[00:03:49.840] But I could tell you all of those things and some may still say, "Why should I care about this?" There are those who would say that fairness is not a good goal, and that might makes right, and that as Darwin showed us, the nature of nature is violence. Now I know that many of us reject this ideology, and we feel in our bones that it is wrong. But luckily we don't have to resort to high philosophy and gut feeling in order to convince ourselves that an attribution-based system is truly better. Because in addition to all of those other properties we talked about, an attribution-based economic system is also efficient. And I say this from the perspective of having an admiration for the efficiency of capitalism. So understand that that is my perspective when I say that this system -- an attribution-based economic system -- is significantly more efficient than capitalism. And it achieves that by virtue of eliminating the waste that is inherent in adversarial competition, while still preserving market forces!

[00:05:01.760] In addition to this property there is also this other property that I think is truly profound, and I want to motivate it by this example of a gyroscope. Now many of us have had the opportunity to play with a gyroscope at some point in our lives. If you haven't, I encourage you to go out and get one and try it out. It also makes a good gift if you're thinking about giving it to somebody else this year. But if you've played with a gyroscope then you've had the experience, perhaps, of putting it on your hand and moving it around. And no matter what you do, it will always maintain its axis. Even if you try to push it and try to make it deviate from that axis, it will fight you. It will resist you, and keep to that axis no matter what. And if you've had this experience, then believe it or not, you have some insight into the nature of economic systems. Because if we try to get an economic system to do something other than what it wants to do, other than what is its nature, then it will resist us and it will fight that change. Now, I don't know about you, but I'd prefer to avoid fighting these gyroscopic forces. I'd rather have these forces work with me rather than against me. Now in a capitalist system, there is another problem, which is that not only do you have these gyroscopic forces at work, but these forces aren't even all working together. They're working against each other, in many cases. They represent misaligned interests. And indeed, these misaligned interests are the very means by which these forces operate at all. So in a way, war is not just an inevitable consequence in this system but is rather the very nature of such a system. In an attribution-based system, on the other hand, by virtue of the source of value being collective attribution, we are able to achieve alignment of all of these interests at every scale, so that at every scale of society, from the smallest to the largest scales, the interests will be aligned, will be consonant and harmonious. I think this is a very important, profound quality that I think is the fundamental problem of economics - the fundamental goal of economics to solve. And I believe that an attribution-based economic system addresses it and solves it.

[00:07:45.200] So without further ado, I want to bring it home to the prototype that we have in mind for the Emacs community. Now we want to start in the Emacs community because Emacs has a long tradition of exploring better ways of doing things and pursuing better alternatives to the status quo. Now, to give you an overview of the prototype that we've implemented for open source projects. The prototype is composed of two broad phases, that is, the appraisal phase and the accounting phase. Any project is composed of ideas, capital and labor. The appraisal phase is involved in assessing the work done in terms of how much value was created and who created the value and how important that value is. The output of this stage is an attributions file. And the second phase, of accounting, is about, you know, how do you handle payments that come in and how do you pay people out. Now the first part has more of a social component to it and the second part has more of a technological component to it that can be automated. So in order to implement this prototype, we have two things. We have founding documents that describe the social aspects, and an accounting system that automates some of the technological aspects.

[00:09:05.920] The founding documents, in the noble tradition of the Gayaneshagowa and the US constitution, include a constitution which describes the guiding principles of ABE, and the two main prongs are forward-looking empowerment and backward-looking fairness. This means that we want to empower those individuals and groups that are most likely to create value in the future, while also recognizing and fairly compensating those who've created value in the past, to set a good example and incentivize others to take chances in creating value. And it describes high level principles of dialectical inheritance attribution as proceeding by means of common, collectively agreed-upon standards that are applied to all. And the key thing here is these improvements feed back to the whole and apply to everyone. And this is an important quality to ensuring fairness and accuracy.

[00:10:05.920] There's also a declaration of non-ownership. We saw already that ownership is an overused institution. This just codifies that and allows us to shed the baggage of this idea of ownership where it doesn't make any sense.

[00:10:24.320] A third document is the financial model which describes how payments are to be treated, and a key idea here is that when you pay money to an open source project, you know, today you don't really have an incentive to do so, and it essentially is kind of like a donation. But in this model, in an attribution-based model, when you pay money to a project, you're creating value in a way. You're contributing value to the project and that itself is attributable. And the manner in which we'll treat this is in terms of the fair market price that, again, we agree upon collectively. And any payment that exceeds the fair market price is going to be treated as investment. And the goal here for this financial model is for the system to be self-sustaining, so I think there are many open problems here and any finance experts or any other experts who are interested in contributing here, your help is needed, certainly.

[00:11:23.240] There's also an attribution model document, which describes some of the theoretical ideas that would guide dialectical inheritance attribution, and there are many interesting ideas here. One that I'd like to mention is "backpropagation," which is the idea that as we're improving the standards over time and they're likely to get more accurate and fair over time, we'd like these more accurate and fair standards to "backpropagate" and calibrate the value assignments that were done in the past. And this means that some people might have been underpaid in the past and we would pay them what they were underpaid, or the balance, and some people may have been overpaid. Now in that case we're not going to go and say, "hey we overpaid you, give us the money back." Instead the system as a whole is going to bear the cost of being wrong, and so it's kind of an insurance policy. But I think another more interesting quality here is that the system in practice wouldn't really absorb any negative impact here because there is an incentive for these people who've been overpaid to reinvest that money. So I think they would want to invest the money in other places that the system has valued as being valuable and showing potential.

[00:12:49.120] The second component of the implementation is the accounting system. All accounting is public. All payments into the repo are public and all payments out of the project are also public. We can do some things for privacy, and again, the basis of this system is dialogue. It's not a fundamentally technologically system. It's a fundamentally dialogue-based system, and that, to be honest with you, is everything. It's all systems that we have in place. But by embracing that, it means that we can do whatever we want to do by discussion, and if there's something that we cannot achieve in a technological way, we'll achieve it in a non-technological way. But anyway, the point is, all accounting is public, and text files in the repository form the inputs and outputs of the accounting system which is implemented as a GitHub action. So typically a source repository will have an ABE folder containing these three inputs: attributions, payments, and payouts. And we'll see how that works.

[00:13:59.920] This is the Github organization account. This is an example of a repository that uses the GitHub action accounting system. So there will be a payments folder, a payouts folder, as well as an attributions file. The payments: essentially each file just represents a payment that's made to the repository. Payouts is the same except it's payments made by the admins of the repository to contributors. And the attributions file breaks down the attribution of the value in the repository by contributor. And then the billing system runs on every relevant commit, which is typically changes to the ABE folder, generates a set of transactions that are owed to various people from various payments, and then creates an issue with the outstanding balances that need to be paid out to contributors, and tells you what those balances are. So for repository or project maintainers, it automates all these accounting details and you just have to worry about fulfilling the payments.

[00:15:17.600] An interesting property of the prototype is that boundary incentives expand the boundary, and that is that the incentives in the system are so constructed that those on the periphery of the attribution-based economic system have an incentive to join in. And we'll see how that works. Well, as I mentioned, we're starting this prototype in the Emacs community with the Symex repo. Symex is a structural editing package, and this prototype will recognize direct contributors as well as antecedents and related projects through the process of collective attribution. We all decide how financial contributions to the Symex repo are going to be distributed to the direct contributors as well as to antecedents and related projects. So the power is yours! And that's what I meant when I said that the boundary incentives expand the boundary, because projects that we agree are owed money from the Symex repo now would have an incentive to join, because once they join they would get that money. And we'll also be implementing this in the Racket community. Racket is a Scheme dialect, and Emacs has great support for Racket in Racket Mode so I encourage you to try it. And we'll be prototyping it in the Qi repository. Qi is a language written in Racket which is, you know, it's for functional programming and things like that. And once again, we'll recognize direct contributors as well as antecedents and we all decide and agree on how those are done.

[00:17:11.560] So how do you adopt this? You can add the github action to a repo that you are a maintainer of. You can financially support an ABE project. This is important to do because the system won't get started without money as an input. And it also has network effects, as we saw - the more money you contribute, the more incentive there is for other people to join the system. And contributions are also attributable, as we said earlier. Some of them can be treated as investments. Any help you can provide with funding would be attributable and very helpful, of course. And yeah, if you can help us achieve the goal of self-sufficiency without relying on capitalist entry points, that would be very helpful as well. I'd like to acknowledge the help of many individuals for this presentation as well as many of the supporting things that have gone on behind the scenes for years. And in particular for now I want to mention Jair and Ariana who wrote the accounting system that we saw earlier, and Salim who encouraged me to take this social approach to the prototype. And so many more people who have believed and invested in the cause of "attribution, not ownership!"

[00:18:39.160] I want to leave you with this closing thought. The electromagnetic attraction between two objects is 1042 stronger (!) than the gravitational attraction between these same objects. And yet, a stone falls to the Earth under the influence of gravity, not magnetism. The reason is that the e/m forces are polarized, much like our world, and cancel each other out.

[00:19:04.080] Now in this world, we are told that we should look out for ourselves because no one is going to look out for us. That we should take care of our own because we can't rely on others to care. An attribution-based economy is nothing like that. We care about each other, we take care of each other, because taking care of one another is valuable, and an attribution-based economic system is capable of recognizing that value, in financial terms. And as a result, we are safe in the embrace of the world. So, um, yeah. Let's go!

Captioner: sid

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