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Re: [ox-en] The Hipatia Manifesto

Hi Paul

The most surprising people keep turning up here :-)

On Sun, 24 Aug 2003 wpc wrote:

Quoting Stefan Merten <smerten>:
Since technology helps and encourages them, as the barriers to
prevent their free spread fall with the Internet, it is
necessary to invent legal barriers to create property and value
where it is not possible to establish them naturally.

On the German list some weeks ago Sabine stressed that all scarcity is
not naturally. Particularly today, where the productivity is as high
as never before this is true even for material goods. I'm sure at
least in the industrialized countries everyone could have a good
living if not money would prevent that.

There is a difference which is obscured by using the term scarcity.
All commodities require labour to produce or reproduce them. 
The labour required tends to be roughly proportional to the
market price of the commodities.

With information commodities however, the labour required to
produce them is significantly lower than their market prices
divided by the monetary equivalent of labour. The difference,
arises due to the goods selling above their value - a form of
absolute rent, to use an analogy with Marx's analysis of the
non-Ricardian form of ground rent.
Paul Cockshott

Oh, this is an argument we've been round here before. Now I have a new
victim I'll have another go ;-)

I think there is a valid argument that software has no value at all
(on this list, Stefan Meretz has previously taken the same position you
state above, which also seems to be the standard position on ope-l;
Andre' Gorz's new book seems to agree with me, and I'm told some of the
Krisis group may as well, though I haven't read any of them).

From a Marxian point of view, as far as I am aware Marx never discussed
design costs or other non-recurrent costs as explicitly adding value to
products; and all his arguments in the Grundrisse on the role of
scientific inputs to production seem to point the other way, as being
incompatible with measurement by labour time, and hence with value. This
is the argument followed by Gorz, L'Immateriel, to say (p.34): "The
heterogeneity of the so-called 'cognitive' work activities, of the
immaterial products they create, and of the capabilities and know-hows
they imply, make the value of both the labour power and the products
themselves non-measurable".
From a non-marxian point of view there are the recent arguments of Boldrin
and Levine ( that software development costs are not
fixed but sunk costs. I don't understand enough marginalist economics to
follow all their argument, but one of their conclusions is that the
justification of copyright and patent law as necessary to recoup initial
costs is pure propaganda based on the mistaken assignment of programming
and related costs to recurrent fixed costs rather than sunk costs. On the
other hand they then say that the marginal costs of programs etc is not
zero, only close to zero, and it is the small marginal cost that needs to
be recouped, not the sunk cost. Translating this back into marxist terms,
a program has no more value than a theorem, but a CD of software has
some small value based on the labour needed to create it. 

The argument on whether software has value isn't totally abstract: I
believe about 6% of the US economy is prepackaged software; if it
has value, then this is an addition to the total value generated by
the economy, and some proportion of it is additional surplus value
(ie. growth of the packed software industry can keep the profit rate
up); if it has no value, then the profits of Microsoft etc are simply
based on hijacking surplus value from other sectors of the economy.

Please tell me whether this is complete gibberish or is actually 
arguable.. you can see I'm no economist!


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