[OPE] intermission: value of knowledge

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Fri Nov 20 2009 - 13:15:58 EST

As I indicated in a simplified tute on the value form
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value-form , the substance of economic value
(in Marx's sense) is not directly observable and manifest.

What the value of object X really is, can become apparent only as a result
of the development of the value-form in relation to X. Rather than invoke a
schema, we have to understand this dialectically, i.e. in motion.

Thus when I claim that we are only in the "early stages of the
commodification of knowledge and information", what I mean is that the
development of the value-form in that region is still at an early stage. In
order to maximise the "transactional" character of human communication, it
is necessary that people should relate and associate in a certain way -
in such a way that they cannot obtain money except through
communicating transactionally. The willingness to communicate must
become conditional on exchange, rather than spontaneously
volunteered. There may be "faux frais" in this exchange (drawing attention)
but the supply of "valuable" stuff is conditional on exchange.

Simply put, people initially start trading something of value, because they
need to use or consume it, consequently can make money from it, and
gradually, a normal value is socially established for it, which reflects its
normal cost of production vis-a-vis the normal demand for it. This happens
also to skills, knowledge, acquired abilities, services and information.

At first, we do not know exactly what the value of an item is worth, we
know only that people are prepared to trade in it and pay a certain amount
for it. But as the trade becomes regularised, and trading norms are
well-established, it becomes possible to evaluate more precisely what
something is worth. As a corollary, the conditions for producing the item
become more standardised and uniform.

Of course, there will always be knowledges and information which do
not have a trading value, even although they are indispensable. But any
realistic appraisal of markets shows that they cannot even function without
the support of much non-market labour and non-market cooperation.
Time-use surveys indicate that the ratio of paid work and unpaid voluntary
work in society is often about 50/50. Certain kinds of labour have
commercial value, others don't.

Information is never knowledge, because information is qualitatively
different from knowledge. Because this is so, in practical reality a
transformation of information into knowledge, and knowledge into
information, is required. This transformation process makes no sense at all,
if you simplistically equated information with knowledge. The conditions of
access to information are very different depending on whether information is
lodged in individuals or lodged in a transferable record or an associational
form. Knowledge requires a knowing subject who activates information. The
fact that somebody has knowledge is an item of information, but that
information becomes knowledge only in the mind of a knower. If for example
Paul Cockshott does not know what knowledge I have, then the knowledge I
have, is not information, because there is no information about the
knowledge that I have. It may be, that I am the only one who knows what I
know, and that is not information, but the knowledge that I have.

Analysing this transformation process whereby information is converted into
knowledge and vice versa is crucial for understanding the social division of
labour in social hierarchies, since typically the rulers structure this
division of labour in a way that they themselves can control it and benefit
from it, in a way which extracts information and knowledge wealth
from the subaltern classes, and supplies it to the rulers or controllers.
At the bottom-level of each hierarchy, workers mainly create and compile
structured data, at the middle level the data is analysed with greater
conceptual freedom, and at the top level decisions are made on the basis of
the analyses. It's is much like Plato's Republic: some people are "tin" (low
level information processors with limited capacity for abstraction and
relating), some are bronze (a higher mental/social capacity), and some are
gold (possessing the full portfolio of mental and relational capacities for
leadership and control). One's place in this pecking order is essentially
determined and made manifest by a process of selection, grading,
competition, and performance assessment.

In post-equilibrium official economics, they talk merrily about "price
discovery" in markets, but the discovery process is really about the
valuation of labour-time, and the commercial valuation of labour-time
itself depends on the surplus-value which can be extracted from its
employment. At any time it may not be very clear what it costs to produce
and buy the knowledge or information, how much you can sell it for and how
much income you can obtain from it. But this is not very different from any
other new commodity - as soon however as a regular trade begins to occur,
definite norms begin to apply to it.

In his seminal essay "Knowledge as a commodity" (1965), Kenneth Boulding
argued that the difficulty of assessing the value of knowledge that people
have, and its depreciability, made for arbitrary pricing and imperfect
markets. There is truth in this, but his essay was written before the
digital revolution gathered steam. Just as with any other commodity,
however, we can distinguish emerging markets from developed ones and
declining ones. As the trade in knowledge and information develops, it
becomes increasingly clear what its commercial value currently is,
because "market rates" become widely accepted.

This is not to say that knowledges cannot be quickly devalued and
revalued, but this is just the same for all kinds of labour-power and
all kinds of commodities.


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Received on Fri Nov 20 13:25:08 2009

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