Re: [ox-en] New pages in the introduction
- From: Stefan Meretz <stefan.meretz hbv.org>
- Date: Mon, 13 May 2002 12:13:27 +0200
whow, that's a quite important topic you brought up, which not had been
discussed on ox IIRC. It was discussed on another list (called "joint")
before having ox, Stefan Mn, do you remenber? Long time ago...
Am Freitag, 10. Mai 2002 00:08 schrieb Graham Seaman:
Commercial software is not a commodity, and has no value. It has no
value in the sense that it has no price (you cannot buy software, and
eg. Microsoft's EULAs always say 'you have not bought this software').
The argument sounds like "you cannot own software", and I think this is a
correct statement. Nevertheless, I cannot agree with the following.
It has negligeable value in the classical and Marxist economist's sense
of labour value, since the costs of creating the original are a fixed
cost, like the design of physical objects, and the labour involved in
reproduction of software is almost (not quite) zero. It has no value in
the neoclassical sense that the marginal cost is zero in the limit.
However you look at it, it has no value. So, it is also not a
commodity, at least not in the Marxist sense in which it's used on the
'blotter' page, any more than free software is.
IIRC "commodity" is defined as follows:
- a good which is made by independent _private_ producers
- the good has only a value if it is _exchanged_: no exchange, no value
- the value of the good appears as exchange value
- "value" is comparison of amount of labor of exchanged products
- not single products are compared, but a product with a "mean product"
- "value" and "commodity" are notions of societal mean
Applied to software this means that all labor necessary for development
and production is distributed on all specimen successfully exchanged on
market. It is more or less the same situation as in "normal" products.
The only difference is: The development expense goes to 1 and production
expense to 0, while in normal products you have, say 0.5 to 0.5 or 0.7 to
0.3 - neclecting all other "expenses" (which could very, very high: ads,
Therefore, my counter argument is: Because "commodity", "value" etc is a
societal notion, you cannot compare a single specimen of "software" and a
single specimen of "car". In general and concerning the question of being
a commodity the situation in software is only quantitatively different
from other products.
BTW: It is part of the ox arguing, that the process we face in software is
only the peak of the normal ongoing process in general (immaterial
development part increases relatively).
If you are charged money to use software, it is not because of its
value, but because the law says that someone owns it and can set what
conditions they like for its use.
In bourgois society you always and everywhere have laws. The special form
of law and the form of commodity are constituents of bourgois society.
Patent laws and copyright laws were not made for software!
Why is this important? If commercial software has value, like physical
goods, then if free software disappears (say patents are applied to all
software, or rising nationalism leads to the internet being shut off -
insert favourite nightmare here) everything carries on much as before.
Just one more utopian possibility that didn't get fully realised (I
don't think this is remotely likely).
But if commercial software has no value, and technology continues to
lead to more things being digitisable and so also having no value, then
if free software disappears we do not end up where we were before. We
end up in a society not based on value, but on law-based ownership.
Since this conflicts with all the ideas of freedom present in
capitalist society, we also end up with a drastic loss of freedom.
I think, this is the ongoing fight about who can use (or usurp) the
"general knowledge" (Marx). This topic is widely addressed by Hardt/Negri
in "Empire" (in their broader terms: bio politics - adopted from Bourdieu
AFAIK), however, I didn't read it yet. Anybody does?
If I'm right, saying 'free software is not a commodity' does not
distinguish it from commercial software, which is also 'worthless as
the air we breathe'. One possible conclusion from that is that all
software should be free, as should all formulae for medicine, all
genetic knowledge, etc. etc. (as opposed to having to create an
equivalent, special 'free' version of all the existing commodity
Well, what keep us off from saying: Human activities are "worthless as the
air we breathe"? For me setting some commodities "free" can only be the
first step. I cannot see, that anybody will be more convinced, if you
argue, that 'software is not a commodity' - by "nature" or what is your
ground? All was societal made...
Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft ver.di
Potsdamer Platz 10, 10785 Berlin
private stuff: http://www.meretz.de