Free Press Free Enterprise

Abstract: We have achieved product release of a manually-controlled, high-performance, hydraulic Compresssed Eearth Brick (CEB) press, The Liberator. The initial version is selling for  $3500 – $5500. Our present state of development is automation, which will increase the brick production rate from a maximum of 4-5 bricks/min in the manual version to 8-12 bricks/min in the automatic version. Initial tests with an Arduino-based automatic controller have been performed using small solenoid valves (10 gpm), and higher throughput (25 gpm) hydraulic valves are the next step. We are looking for collaborators to assist in business development according to the principles of free hardware. The business model itself will be free – as in free to examine, use, modify, and distribute without restriction – and modifications must also be made likewise available. Key to maintaining freedom of the enterprise is addressing patent issues by open publishing in trade journals and other venues – for enforceability of freedom of the CEB press. Business development involves fabrication optimization, open source tooling development, machine testing, marketing, development of design/fabrication drawings and design repository, recruiting of a developer community, web development, and production/sales contracts development.

The term free enterprise that is used by mainstream economics really means monopoly capitalism. This is far from the definition proposed by Jefferson and other seminal thinkers on the topic. It is also the opposite of the way we use this term at Factor e Farm and in the Free Software/Hardware movement in general.

Free enterprise to us is free as defined by the Free Software Foundation. This means four freedoms: freedom to examine, to use, to distribute, and to modify – without restriction outside of preserving these freedoms for the future.

We should also make a distinction between Open Business Models and Free Business Models. We start with the difference between free and open source. Open source means one freedom: the freedom to examine the source or workings of something. Free, as defined by the Free Software Foundation, means the  four freedoms above. Therefore, for example, for an open source product – you might be able to view the design – but that may not mean that you can produce, change, or distribute the design without restrictions. The restriction is typically some form of tithe to the authors. That is a means to assure economic advantage – to the authors.

On top of this, we must note that the open source business model, as used in business today – is confusing. When people say open source business model, they mean a business model based on open source products – not a business model that is open source in itself. In the former case, open source describes the products being considered in the business model. In the latter case, open source describes the business model itself. The confusion comes because no distinction is made between the business model itself and the content of the business model. For example, people say that selling Linux support is an open source business model. What they mean is that their business model deals with Linux, which is an open source computer system. They are not discussing the techniques and strategies of the business plan by which people are making money from selling Linux service.

To us, an open source business model is a business model whose business plan and strategy is documented – such that others can replicate it. This distinction is crucial – because if the business model itself is open source, and even further – free – then many people can replicate this business model without suffering from high barriers to entry. This results in widespread dissemination of economic power – which constitutes a disruptive economic force in today’s monopoly capitalism.

In order to promote enterprise replication, it is not enough to have open content as the subject of the business model. A business model has all the issues of business planning and business strategy involved – so to promote enterprise replication – these must be documented. The business model part (as opposed to the subject thereof) is the more difficult part of the two when it comes to running a successful enterprise. Does this make sense?

A free business model with free content is precisely our intent, and The Liberator is the first case in point. We consider this freedom as the only route for realizing a post-scarcity economy – by creating low entry barriers for successful enterprise replication. If the enterprise is good for the world, we benefit by contributing to a better world. Everybody wins. Can we make a living then? As Makerbot leadership says, we can still sell atoms, services, and our time – but information should be free – so we should not be charging for bits (units of information).

I am not aware of any free business models in existence. Instead, there are franchises, where you pay a license fee for using a certain business model. This includes the GEK, which as far as I understand, licenses the production of their open source gasifier.That’s certainly a viable business model, but it is limited in its disruptive potential. Common franchises such as Taco Bell are a boon and a bane – but they are definitely not transformative from the standpoint of creating a post-scarcity economy. Yo quiero Taco Bell, they say, and the world keeps burning.

We try to make the points above clear because there’s a profound difference in the nature of free products and non-free products. Free products imply disruptive economic potential – in that the means of production are more accessible to everybody (what is called distributive economics). Non-free, non-open source products imply concentration of power – the trend that is still in vogue in today’s economic system.

We here propose the collaborative development of a Free Enterprise model for our high performance, open source, free Compressed Earth Brick (CEB) press – The Liberator. Here is the status of the Free Press Free Enterprise, and a call-out to co-developers.

Please contact me at marcin at replab dot org to continue this discussion, and leave your response in the comments as well.


  1. John M Ennis

    I would hope that you will continue the development of the manual, human controlled model.

    While I am a sucker for gadgets and gizmos, I seriously question your desire to stick a microcontroller on everything.

    If you question the use of automation at a fundamental level, what nearly always shows up is a desire to remove people from the workflow. I would question that this is in the best interests of our society.

    What usually happens in a setting where automation is introduced is the most vulnerable have their jobs taken from them.

    Just a thought. I really like your work

  2. Jeb

    One interesting thing about franchise businesses is that I don’t know (yet) of any co-op versions. Franchise limitations on local owners via their agreements is distasteful to real entrepreneurs and also those who prefer localization, but ensures consistency for the customer which allows the development of effective brands. The preparation, marketing, and sales of a franchise opportunity are an entire business operation in themselves, along with ongoing marketing and training support to franchisees. I’m not sure why the same thing can’t be setup in a kind of co-op model where the franchisees collectively own the main branding organization, but I wonder if conflict would be more likely ensue without top-down organization (too many chiefs). The thing I’ve learned myself about business the hard way is that all the pieces are important and often non-trivial. Without effective marketing, there is no business for example.

  3. Edward Miller

    You seem to be committing the “Broken Window Fallacy.” If Johnny hits a ball into a window and breaks it, a glass maker must be hired to replace the window. This is an increase in employment but the fact that Johnny broke a window doesn’t make society richer. The money used to pay for a new window could otherwise have been put to more productive uses had the window not been broken.

    We should not spend one iota of effort attempting to prop up vampire industries and obsolete professions. We should do the opposite and instead work to transcend the need for wage labor entirely.

    Automation is not the enemy of workers. It is only the enemy of workers when it is produced under the conditions of artificial scarcity. This makes it impossible for workers to obtain the means of production.

    Open source circuitry such as the Arduino provide all the schematics and allow for these schematics to be improved by anyone around the world. Eventually, projects like RepRap will allow all sorts of objects, including circuits, to be printed out right in your living room.

    Thus, these sorts of projects do “remove workers from the workflow,” but they do not cause any decrease in the quality of life because what ends up happening is that these projects just completely eliminate the need for an industry.

    Is it bad that it is no longer a necessity to hire paid professionals to write internet browser software or pen encyclopedia articles? Or does it in fact enrich everyone else that we no longer have to spend money on things that can be produced more efficiently without wage labor?

  4. Marcin

    John, the short answer to your question is that the automatic version of the controls is a plug-in module. One has a choice to use the manual version or the automatic version. Both versions will be developed to their full potential. The advantage of the manual version is lower overall system complexity and cost. The advantage of the automatic version is 2- to 3-fold increase in production rate. Given the open documentation of the automated version, we claim that it is still within the realm of appropriate technology. Moreover, the automated version allows the elimination of one worker in the house-building process. This could be a great boon in the case where, for example – there is a couple building their home – and they can’t get any wage-laboring friends to help.

  5. Chad

    Very well put, Edward.

  6. […] marks a historic moment for “free enterprise” development (see last post for what we mean by free enterprise). To my knowledge, we are demonstrating the first case of […]

  7. Karl

    Marcin, thanks for posting this. I became a bit concerned when in your ‘Report from FSCONS 2009’ entry you stated that you didn’t know there was a difference between libre and open source software. I had always just assumed that you understood this. It just goes to show that people need to constantly question the actual meaning of and the intent behind the words used by others.

    As for putting people out of work, yes, that is the purpose of automation. Why would any sane person advocate for monotonous, back-breaking work to be done by human beings? Automate the hell out of everything!

  8. Franz Nahrada

    @ Edward, I totally agree with your point, but there is something to add: the work that “breaks away” on one side as idle and obsolete, repetitive and painful menial labor is needed on the other side as the work of refinement, coordination, design and application. There is not a “death of work”, only the fact that capitalism is unable to reorganize and restructure work according to the needs of automation. So people are unemployed, although the new potentials and necessities of the automated world call for so many new and exciting human activities. In a global villages world, we will feed most of these activities directly, by local supporting environments rather than by the sales generated from our products. I am very affraid that Marcin does not see the overall degressive effect of the value side here.

  9. Leo Dearden

    “We start with the difference between free and open source. Open source means one freedom: the freedom to examine the source or workings of something. Free, as defined by the Free Software Foundation, means the four freedoms above. Therefore, for example, for an open source product – you might be able to view the design – but that may not mean that you can produce, change, or distribute the design without restrictions.”

    This is the most common misunderstanding of open source. Open Source in practicial terms means exactly the same four freedoms as Free (Libre). If there is a difference, it is one of moral vs. practical emphasis in justification for the freedoms.

    The final arbiter or Open Source is the OSI, and their standard is at:

    There have been some attempts to brand “Source under glass” as Open Source, but they were rejected by the community and the OSI.


  10. Marcin

    @Karl: I must add that my response to ‘free’ and ‘open source’ became personalized after FSCONS. I heard the terms before, and for practical purposes, the terms were the same to me. But from the people I spoke to – we connected to the ideology of ‘free.’ The discussions pointed out that ‘open source’ is sometimes used to mean ‘open source under glass,’ where you can see it only, but the other 3 freedoms may be missing. My feelings were touched about the explicit pointing to the economically-distributive nature of ‘free’, which I personally find awe-inspiring because of the disruptive economic potential. I know at least that the ‘free’ constituency is passionate about distributive economics. I don’t know whether people talking ‘open source’ are also talking about ‘distributive economics,’ so now I make it a point to ask them to clarify. This is because those who include the distributive economics component in their thinking are typically able to understand the Resilient Community Construction Set at a deeper level. To me, ‘free’ is an irresistable, transformative force – and a deep drive that will never leave the human spirit. Open source does not, in my mind, carry the same depth of meaning or power.

  11. Franz Nahrada

    I think as Leo does that the difference is overemphasized and we can very well go with Open Source as long as we really practise the four freedoms and what comes with it.

  12. Edward Miller


    I agree with you that we need to be very concerned on a local level about how to best organize our societies to promote healthy and vibrant communities.

    It would be such a shame if we waste our creativity being overly concerned with sales and not concerned enough with building livable, walkable, and beautiful communities… not that the two are mutually exclusive.

    Happy workers are essential for producing quality products as many businesses have learned… from Ford to Google.

  13. […] marks a historic moment for free enterprise development (see last post for what we mean by free enterprise). To my knowledge, we are demonstrating the first case of free […]

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