Re: [ox-en] The Hipatia Manifesto
- From: Paul Cockshott <wpc dcs.gla.ac.uk>
- Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2003 09:50:08 +0100
At 05:57 PM 8/24/2[PHONE NUMBER REMOVED], you wrote:
The most surprising people keep turning up here :-)
On Sun, 24 Aug 2003 wpc dcs.gla.ac.uk wrote:
> Quoting Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>:
> > > 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.
Whether Marx discussed it or not isnt relevant. What one has to do
is use the concepts of value theory to analyse the problem.
One must analyse it abstracting completely from the current property
forms under which it occurs, and then see how the abstract requirements
of reproduction are implemented by a particular type of society.
To produce a flow of new software requires a certain portion of the
population to be engaged in writing it. To say that a flow of software
has value is to say no more than this. Dimensional analysis indicates
that the value per year of a flow of a product is measured in terms of
Value = persons x time
years = time
Value per annum = value / time = persons
The value of a software flow is thus a mapping from the software to that
portion of the population devoted to producing it.
The annual value of a flow of copies of software is identical to that
portion of the population that is employed in copying it.
The value of a copy of a piece of software clearly depends on both
the labour required to produce the original, and on the number of
A significant portion of the population of software writers is engaged
in the production of software that will be used in a relatively small
number of copies - within a small number of computers all controlled
by a single institution - firm, government body, research lab etc.
If CERN employees develop a new package of monitoring software
that goes onto say 30 processors monitoring an experiment, then
the value of that software is 1/30 th the labour required to write it +
the labour of the system staff who install it on the machines.
If a Linux package is distributed to 30 million machines the value
of each active copy is 1/30,000,000 of( the labour time of the developers
+ the time taken to maintian the copying system - computers,
CD copies etc )+ the time taken to install it on an average machine.
One can deduce this about value without considering whether the
software takes the form of a commodity or not. To say that it has
value is just to say that society has to allocate labour to achieve it.
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
This is in my view just nonsense. The concept of value is one of
abstract labour, just human labour time in general, one abstracts
from its concrete form. 'Cognitative' work is no different from any other
in this respect. It involves the expenditure of human energy in the
muscles and brain, but so does carpentry.
>From a non-marxian point of view there are the recent arguments of Boldrin
and Levine (www.dklevine.com) 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.
Whether a program has more value than a theorem depends on
how long each takes to develop. There are labour intensive and
non labour intensive programs, the same applies to theorems.
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.
This is in my view an arse about first approach to things. To determine
the value of software in the US economy one should look not at sales
statistics but at employment statistics - what proportion of the
workforce are employed in the production of software.
Of course to get an accurate figure one would have to invert
the i/o table to take into account indirect inputs. Given
a few hours I could check it out, but I dont have time