Free labor, Peter Kropotkin, and Yochai Benkler

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My latest Time column is now online (and on actual paper in the issue dated Feb. 26, with the little fetuses on the cover). It begins:

It might seem very odd to look to a long-dead Russian anarchist for business advice. But Peter Kropotkin’s big idea–that there are important human motivations beyond what he called “reckless individualism”–is very relevant these days. That’s because one of the most interesting questions in business has become how much work people will do for free. Read more.

The column revolves mostly around the work of Yale Law School’s Yochai Benkler, a modern-day, more-or-less capitalist Kropotkin. As always, I plan to blog more on the subject in the coming days. But a couple of links and remarks are in order now.

The discussion between Benkler and Nicholas Carr that led to the world-famous Carr-Benkler wager was conducted in the comments section of Carr’s blog following this post. Carr’s blog, which he calls “Rough Type” but everybody else seems to refer to as “Nick Carr’s blog,” is really good, by the way. As can be expected of a man who made his name in 2003 with Harvard Business Review essay titled “IT Doesn’t Matter” (IT being information technology), he’s skeptical of pretty much everything, especially the transformative effects of technology. Not that there’s a problem with that.

Also, I’m now about halfway through Peter Kropotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist, and can highly recommend it. He wrote the memoirs in English, for the Atlantic Monthly, and they’re an amazing (and very entertaining) glimpse into a lost world. Kropotkin was a child of the fading Moscow aristocracy, he lucked into a spot in the prestigious Corps of Pages in St. Petersburg–spending a year as Tsar Alexander II‘s page de chambre–then volunteered for service in the wilds of Siberia. At some point after that he became a notorious anarchist, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

Finally, here’s what it says at the bottom of my new column: “To read Justin Fox’s daily take on business, go to time-blog.com/curious_capitalist.” I started this blog last year as a way to write a little more frequently than Fortune‘s publication schedule allowed–that is, once a week or so–while giving readers an opportunity to shoot down my especially half-baked ideas. Now I’m supposed to be doing it daily? See, this is that free labor stuff I’m talking about.

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