Last week’s episode of Econtalk featured Russ Roberts talking to Tom Hazlett about Apple vs. Google and open vs. closed business models. Tim Lee has already addressed some concerns about Russ and Tom’s treatment of the topic, which I won’t rehash here. But I did want to comment on this statement by Russ (at minute 33):
The idea that you shouldn’t buy Apple stuff, which I’ve actually seen people say, because it’s somehow immoral because [Steve Jobs] is so controlling, is a bizarre idea. I’m not quite sure where it comes from. It comes from some of the freedom of the internet and the stuff we’ve become accustomed to.
Russ then likens a personal conviction to avoid closed products to some of his readers’ feelings of entitlement that they have a right to post a comment on his blog, and to a stranger thinking he has the right to take hot dogs from Russ’s backyard grill. I don’t think I have to explain why these analogies don’t hold up. What I would like to point out is that abstaining from certain products on moral grounds (and even hectoring friends to do the same) is not at all bizarre behavior. We see it all the time by animal lovers who won’t buy leather or products tested on animals, or people who avoid buying diamonds from conflict areas. I’m sure there are products Russ wouldn’t buy on moral grounds.
So if you honestly believe (and I don’t) that patronizing Apple will help contribute to the closing of the Internet, and you value that openness, especially for political reasons, you would be acting perfectly rationally by boycotting Apple. And such an act would have nothing to do with anti-capitalism because, as Tom Hazlett points out, open business models are perfectly compatible with capitalism.
Now stay tuned. In another post later today I’ll suggest why in fact Apple may be good for the open internet.