Monday, 30 July 2018

Paul Mason's Postcapitalism - A Detailed Critique - Chapter 5(2)

The Value of Information

As an aside here, I want to note that this increased attention given to information is no coincidence. We are just beginning to come to grips with the idea that reality itself is nothing more than information. The more science has investigated matter, the more it has found it to be intangible, and reducible to information. That is the basis, for example, of quantum entanglement, which allowed Chinese scientists, last year, to create a teleportation machine that instantaneously transported information several miles into space. 

Some of the latest theories of reality, and of the multiverse, posit it as being nothing more than a computer simulation, or nothing more than a complex mathematical formula. If we examine the nature of cells, and of DNA, it again comes down to information. If that information was accurately reproduced, over and over again, we would not age, or suffer from illnesses caused by faulty transmission of information, such as cancer. But, it appears that, just as property owners put means of preventing the copying of information into their digital products, so our cells have similar inhibitors, in the form of telomeres that shorten over time, and keep track of the number of replications. 

The real reason that accounting and orthodox theory has a problem in valuing information is actually because information, of itself, has no value. The labour undertaken to obtain information is value creating, in so far as the information it produces is usable information that is then embodied in some product/commodity. If an author spends 100,000 hours of simple labour researching, analysing and codifying data, the resultant information only has value in so far as someone wants to utilise this information, i.e. it is, for them, a use value. If we say 1 hour of simple labour is equal to £1, the labour required to produce the paper and so on required for a book to be published may amount to say £5, the labour to typeset it, and print it a further £5. But, if only one book is produced it would have a value of £100,010, at which price its unlikely to sell any copies. If however, 100,000 copies of the book can be sold, it would have a value of £11 per book, and have the potential to be sold. 

But, then compare that with the information that Paul discusses in this section. The information that the engine maker gets back, in the telemetry from the plane etc. is not the product of any labour to produce it. It consequently has no value. It is like land, which is not the product of labour, and so has no value. Yet, land is bought and sold as a commodity. It has a market price, even though it has no value. It is a vital instrument of production . You can't get minerals or agricultural products out of the ground without using land; in the case of the latter, it is an integral part of the production process itself, because you can't get crops without the nutrients that the land itself contributes to them. Nor can you produce manufactured goods nor services without land on which buildings stand, not to mention on which stand workers engaged in that production. 

Land, therefore, has a market price, even though it has no value, because, under capitalism, it becomes a commodity that is bought and sold, and its price is then a consequence of this interaction of demand and supply. And, the same is true of capital itself. Capital – self-expanding value – is a social relation, and not the product of labour, and so has no value. But, like land, it is also a use value. It has the use value of producing the average rate of profit. This use value is also thereby turned into a commodity that is bought and sold, and whose price – the rate of interest – is determined by the interaction of demand and supply. 

The fact that these things, land and capital, have no value, and yet have a price comes down to the fact that they constitute property. If A owns 10 hectares of land, and B wants to use that land, they either have to rent the land from A, or else they have to buy that land from A, at a price that equalises the capitalised value of the rent. If A owns £100 of money-capital, and B wants to use it, they have to agree to pay A interest on the money-capital. 

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