In a Slashdot discussion on Open Source Software in the developing countries, the following comment was made by the self-consciously monikered FlyingPig:
At the moment software is frequently a tax that poor countries pay to rich countries to be allowed to participate. Poor countries often have weak currencies, but the local cost of goods and services is much lower than you would expect from the exchange rate. It’s like living at the top of an economic inverted gravity well; moving around the local maximum is not too hard, but bringing things in from outside is difficult. Any goods that have to be bought in the West are relatively speaking very expensive. Since the major desktop and server OS is produced in a small corner of the US, this represents a tax on international trade, applied to the Third World and with the proceeds going to Redmond.
FOSS means that work, whether localisation or support, can be done in the local region at local prices. It therefore levels the playing field, helping to achieve the (supposed) objectives of the WTO. And, in reality, it doesn’t reduce Microsoft’s profits as much as you might think because, in many cases, the alternative is actually piracy.
On the other hand, it creates middle class jobs (jobs relying on literacy, professional skills etc.). The biggest problem of many Third World countries is the lack of a middle class. Between the very poor (exploited) and the very rick (exploiters) there is no buffer of people to create a civil society. In China the very concept of civil society is still alien while it has emerged rapidly in Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. India has a rapidly increasing middle class and is the world’s biggest democracy.
So, I know this may seem over the top: but FOSS provides support to fair trade, emerging democracy and free markets. And it does it while expending very little energy, so it contributes little to climate change.