open source money bomb

Phil Ford

December 16 is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, and it’s also a day in 2007 when something might or might not happen. We’ll have to see, won’t we? I’m curious how it will turn out.

I’m talking about Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican candidate for President who has as much chance of actually becoming President as I do. (And I’m Canadian.) But the thing is, he’s been quietly raising huge amounts of money. You might have heard of the Nov. 5 money bomb — some guy set up a web site that challenged Paul’s supporters to raise 10 million dollars in a single day, November 5. They raised 4.3 million, which remains the biggest one-day money total for any of the Republican contenders this election cycle. English readers and comics fanboys will recognize Nov. 5 as Guy Fawkes Day, which has turned into something like an anarchist/libertarian holiday, thanks mostly to the comic book V for Vendetta. Now, on December 16, another date with insurrectionary overtones, Paul’s supporters are planning another money bomb, again with the goal of reaching 10 million dollars.

I’m assuming they won’t quite get there, but who knows?* The last money bomb was quite a surprise. But I mention all this (on a music-oriented blog, of all things) because of something surprisingly few pundits have noticed about Paul’s successes: this appears to be the first political campaign to rely almost exclusively on a distributed peer-production model of fundraising. Distributed peer production is what enables the blogosphere, as well as other, more obvious kinds of intellectual enterprises (Project Gutenberg, open-source software, etc.). This, at least, is what I argued in my “Anarchy in the AMS” talk a few weeks back. The point is, the blogosphere can make big things (self-sustaining intellectual conversations) by using the internet to co-ordinate little things (the blog posts and comments of many people). Until now, it had never occurred to me that a politician could do the same thing, only with money. Interestingly, bookmakers are setting odds on how much money the Dec. 16 drive will make, and they’re guessing something like 6 million. According to my limited understanding of such things, the way such figures are arrived at is another example of distributed intelligence.

I’m not endorsing Paul or anyone else, by the way. As I’ve said before, Cthulhu is the official Dial M candidate for higher office.


I do, however, generally endorse the idea of driving around in cars with speakers mounted on the roof and ranting to random passers-by. This seems like an excellent sort of civic engagement.

*UPDATE: The total take for the day was slightly more than 6 million.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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3 Responses to open source money bomb

  1. Bob says:

    Hey Phil, interesting thought. My hunch is that RP ain’t goin’ nowhere in the 2008 election, but that the principle will kick in in future elections and it’ll mean something significant.
    Speaking of “anarchy in the AMS”: I think the same applies — you and I and others interested in this phenom are on the front end that may not go too far — but hey, it’s a start! Did you know: this is nifty — there’s an AMS facebook group? I’m definitely gonna put it up at the AMS web site, & hope it’ll be a lively spot as we move toward the Nashville meeting Nov. 6 2008. It’ll be fun/interesting to see where it leads…
    Cheers, Bob

  2. Phil Ford says:

    Yeah, I’m a member of the AMS facebook group! I don’t think facebook groups mean much of anything — they don’t do much in the way of creating a space for academic/intellectual communication, but are rather more about making chains of social relationship visible. I’m kind of ambivalent about facebook. It’s a useful way to keep track of your friends (it’s sometimes easier to get in touch with someone via their facebook wall than by email), but social networking sites also kind of creep me out a little.
    What I wonder about the distributed peer-production model of campaign finance is, could just any candidate make use of it, or do you need to have a certain cult-like appeal? Paul certainly has that, but I don’t think that party frontrunners (HRC and Romney, for ex.) usually do. This would suggest that this kind of fundraising will continue to be much less important than the more usual kinds, but then, who knows what the aggregate effect on politics might be. Ron Paul may not have the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president, but at last check he has 12.5 million dollars pledged to his campaign. (More than a million since midnight, and I’m writing this at 7:50 a.m. The money bomb is starting to go off.) That’s an awful lot of money — I can’t believe that it’s going to have no effect at all. It’s sort of like what Ibsen (?) said about how a gun glimpsed in the first act will have to be discharged in the third — you don’t exactly know what’s going to happen, but you know something’s going to happen.

  3. Jeffrey Quick says:
    Glad to see you’re sort of on board.

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