This is another spring cleaning post, last updated October 2005, apparently. But it seems appropriate to yesterday’s post.

Sure, you’re saying, upon reading the title of this post. And freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. But actually the title of this post is the exact opposite of my real point; I was just going for the catchy title.

I’ve just started to reread Eric Von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation (on my Palm, damn it, yes), & some really striking similarities, well, struck me. Get this, from chapter 1, page 1:

When I say that innovation is being democratized, I mean that users of products and services — both firms and individual consumers — are increasingly able to innovate for themselves.

This “innovation” sounds an awful lot to me like what Marx & Engels referred to as “production” in The Communist Manifesto. Only this is the inverse of what Marx & Engels wanted:

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State…

What Marx & Engels wanted, as I read it, was for the means of production to be centralized, not decentralized. So, innovating for oneself is, apparently, bourgeois. My point in writing this is not to make a political statement, but to express surprise at the semantic shift in evidence here. We’ve moved from bourgeois to democratic.

As I say, I wrote the above in 2005. I interpret this differently now. Both Von Hippel and Marx & Engels start from the same point: putting the means of production in the hands of the people. But from there they go in literally opposite directions: Marx & Engels advocate centralization, while Von Hippel advocates decentralization. I suppose this is in part a result of Marx & Engels being the products of an era of monarchies and Von Hippel being the product of the internet era. It seems to me that recent history, both political and technological, shows how well decentralization can work, and how poorly centralization works, both politically and technologically. Though I suspect more technologically than politically.