[OPE-L] OpenSource: a "new source of communism"

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Dec 29 2007 - 10:29:20 EST

Anytime somebody spends labour-time installing, modifying or maintaining a piece of software, that constitutes a cost, whether that cost is explicitly and separately valued in money, or not. 

You can get a lot of "free" information and "free" goods, but in reality that just means that it costs YOU nothing, not that there is no cost at all. There exists no product in the ordinary sense of the term that is entire "free", insofar as the fact that it is produced, means that it took certain costs to produce it. Whether or not and how the costs are actually charged is another matter (as I have said many times, markets could not even function without a lot of voluntary non-market activity).

It is just that the price of many goods, such as information goods, could be much lower than they are, because their economic cost qua production is in fact much lower (or even negligible) compared to the actual cost charged by the person or entity holding the proprietary rights to its supply. 

If you can monopolise the supply of a good or service, and/or people must necessarily buy it in living their life, obviously you can drive up the price far in excess of economic costs, but that is hardly saying anything new. The new phenomenon is that you can produce a piece of information and distribute it universally, where the cost to the consumer bears no relation to the production cost.

Milton Friedman's quip is both true and false, just like his economic theories. It is true insofar as producing the lunch carries a cost for someone. It is false, insofar as you don't pay for the lunch, and get it for free. Similarly Marx argues that surplus-labour and the maintenance of capital assets is a cost to the worker, but the employer often gets it for free.

In general, in modern capitalism, having access to a resource is just as important, or even more important, than ownership of the resource. One reason is that whoever legally owns the resource may be far removed from those who effectively control the resource. Private property often becomes purely an abstraction, which effectively consists only to a financial entitlement to income from a resource, and of itself implies nothing anymore about the ability to have access to, or control of, a resource. This often makes it very difficult to define who has responsibility for an asset, hence the concept of "governance" by "stakeholders". It is the root cause of many organisational crises of the bourgeoisie, because property relations may have to be constantly redefined to ensure control of an asset, and it may not even be clear that property rights in fact ensure effective control over an asset. It may also become difficult to establish what the real costs of a product or asset are, because of the number of different agencies participating in its supply.  

It is not accidental that much Pentagon thinking revolves around the question of "control over strategic assets" in the world, irrespective of legal entitlement or property rights. The response to financial parasitism is "resource-based capitalism" where effective control over a resource enables you to lever up prices. 

Jeremy Rifkin comments: "In the new era, markets are making way for networks, and ownership is steadily being replaced by access. Companies and consumers are beginning to abandon the central reality of modern economic life - the market exchange of property between sellers and buyers. This doesn't mean property disappears in the coming Age of Access. Quite the contrary. Property continues to exist but it is far less likely to be exchanged in markets. Instead, suppliers hold on to the property in the new economy and lease, rent, or charge an admission fee, subscription, or membership dues for its shortterm use. The exchange of property between sellers and buyers - the most important feature of the modern market system - gives way to short-term access between servers and clients operating in a network relationship" (The Age of Access, Penguin 2000, p. 4-5). This may be exaggerated, but there is something in it.

The "lease, rent, fees, subscription, or dues" may bear little relationship to real economic cost insofar as it involves a unique type of good such as an information good for which there are no substitutes or alternatives, and/or where it it possible to monopolize supply.


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