RE: [OPE] intermission: value of knowledge

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Sat Nov 21 2009 - 07:10:09 EST

I agree that it does 'cost work' to produce certain types of information;
that is to say, it takes a certain amount of labor. But the question here is
whether this labor is abstract (the kind of labor that produces value) or
only concrete. To remind ourselves, abstract labor is homogeneous human
labor. It is measured in units of socially-necessary labor time. 'The
labor-time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under
the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill
and intensity prevalent at the time' (Cap. Vol 1, ch. 1). I can't see how a
novel (as distinct from a book) would be an 'article' in this sense. There's
no such thing, as far as I can see, as 'normal conditions of production' or
'average degree of skill and intensity' for novel-writing labor. Which
suggests to me that such labor is not abstract, only concrete.

(One implication of this is that information is not being 'commodified',
only 'commercialized'.)


I disagree. The production of knowledge is highly industrialised today
and management work out how many 'man months' a given task in
this area is likely to take. What complicates things is that the final
market for knowledge is, in most areas, oligopolistic so that the
prices of software, drugs etc contain an element of rent, but that
does not mean that software and drug companies do not struggle
to apply the production of relative surplus value.

Since the 1970s a recurrent issue in software project management
has been how to control the labour costs of such projects
see 'The Mythical Man Month' (
which kicked off the debate.

Book publishing is also a very well established commercial enterprise
with a well developed fee structure. There is a wide dispersion of
writer's incomes, but this is, as I said, governed by the lure of
the small percentage that gain a high income ( just the same as
Smiths point about only 1 in ten lawyers recouping the cost of
their training).

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Received on Sat Nov 21 07:12:37 2009

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