Re: [ox-en] The Hipatia Manifesto
- From: Graham Seaman <graham seul.org>
- Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2003 12:48:05 -0400 (EDT)
OK, there are at least two major differences of opinion here:
1. Whether 'value' is a category valid for all societies (I think the
majority oekonux opinion is that it is not, since the basic
oekonux texts claim that linux has no value)
2. Whether it is meaningful to treat packaged software as having value in
this society. Here I'm in a minority in disagreeing with you.
On Mon, 25 Aug 2003, Paul Cockshott wrote:
At 05:57 PM 8/24/2[PHONE NUMBER REMOVED], you wrote:
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.
Argument by quotation never solved anything about the real world,
but it can clarify what the original author thought. In this case there
are so many places that marx said things like 'Labour time as the measure
of value posits wealth itself as founded on poverty' (Grundrisse, Penguin
p.708), 'As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great
well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its
measure' (Grundrisse p.705) etc. that I think it's obvious that he saw
value as specific to one society (and possibly in part to preceding and
following transitional stages). So that doesn't prove anything about
the real world, maybe he was completely wrong. But to me it seems a
logical consequence of the earlier stages of his argument.
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.
In this rather abstract form it seems to me that you are maintaining
elements from this specific society: in particular the idea that people
have a job, to which they are devoted full-time. The value of a program
has no necessary relation to the amount of hours spent by people
programming at work at all. I could have spent the whole of the 80s
tryuing to write a C compiler; it would never have been remotely
comparable to gcc, because I'm not a very good programmer and rms is (or
was). This is normal in software; it's a truism that a small fraction
of programmers are many times more productive than most others. To get
round this you need to revert to abstract labour; and the process of
creating abstract labour is specific to capitalism, and implies both
'jobs' as labour for others and a market (or a caculated substitute
for it, as in the xUSSR).
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 piece of software is only being used in-house, I don't see why
it has value in any case. The labour of creating it is a service paid for
(whether to contractors, an outside company or employees); the end
result is not a commodity, and has no exchange value. Your 'value',
if detached from excahnge value, seems to be purely a synonym for labour
time, but labour time without the market to generate the abstract
labour that makes it a viable measure.
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.
If Linus started writing Linux 'just for fun' how is this a social
allocation of labour? This seems to be introducing ideas like 'opportunity
cost' into value theory; without that, then he simply did it because he
wanted to. Suppose instead he'd enjoyed blowing balloons into animal
shapes in his spare time - would that have been a 'social allocation
<snipped comments about Gorz and Boldrin & Levine>
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.
I assume (though I'm not certain) you'd agree that advertising adds
nothing to the value of products, in spite of the very large number of
people who work in it; and that there are many other jobs which do not
create value. In that case, how does the number of people in the packaged
software industry prove anything about the value of their output?
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
Left as an exercise for the reader? ;-)
I guess my view comes down basically to the idea of value as a social
construct; capitalism runs because people perceive at least a vague
relation between the amount they are paid for an hours work and the
amount the things they need cost. Where there is no perception of
a link between the two (as in the cost of a CD, or a program) the
mechanism breaks down and people are happy to 'pirate'; it's not
perceived as theft, because the time/money relationship is absent;
ie. there is no perceived value.
Your view is entirely objective: value = labour time, always and
everywhere. But while time may always be measurable, surely what
labour is varies from society to society?