Capital and Information

capitalism, marx

I was listening to a podcast this morning and it was talking about the rise of the Rothschilds and modern finance. One of the points that stuck with me was a comment that the Rothschilds had the most capital and the most sophisticated information network.

Capital and Information

Lets just sit with that for a moment.

I have been involved in various Marx reading groups lately, which I definitely recommend to other people. I am not ideological. I am not a marxist. But I am fascinated by systems thinkers and by architects of systems people that come to min are Freud, Marx, Hegel, to name a few.

It is hard not to use, and in most cases, misuse concepts from Marx. I myself am guilty of this all the time. So these reading groups are an opportunity to return to Marxist first principles.

So lets talk about commodities. For Marx the commodity has a vary particular meaning. It is something that only exists in a capitalist structure – where you exchange goods for one another through the medium of money. This money exchange means that all commodities have two parts: the exchange value (the value that we talk about with money), and the use value (what you use the item for).  So for example, when I buy an apple at the farmers market it has a use value (eating), and an exchange value ($1 or whatever I paid).

That is the foundation of capitalism the transformation of goods into commodities.

Now we have this thing called information. I wonder if information did not co-eval with commodities in the creation of capitalism.  Information in many respects to the concept of the commodity but it is not analyzed by Marx.

We could say that information is a commodity.  That it has a use value and an exchange value. But I would not agree with this, or that if we did say information was a commodity we would have to change the definition of commodity.

Question – does information have use value beyond exchange value? I posit that information’s use value derives from its exchange value. Outside of a capitalist system that lacks exchange value, information has no use and therefore is not a commodity.

But, you might say, what about literature. I might have a use for it for pleasure, or to learn something that will help my career.  In this case it does have a use pleasure. But is this the same thing has information? Is knowledge the same thing as information? Am I just quibbling. The transformation of knowledge into information is a similar transformation from a product into a commodity.  Isn’t it the same thing? Knowledge being the use value of information?

Well, right there this is different than a commodity.  A commodity is not split between product and exchange value, but between two types of value.  Information seems related to knowledge in a different way then the way a product is related to a product. A large reason for this is that knowledge is immaterial. If knowledge does have use value how do we realize this. An apple has roughly the same use value for everyone, although some people may enjoy eating an apple more than others. (Is this pleasure a fetish?) A law book though will have different use value for a lawyer than a doctor, or for someone being sued than someone not being sued. Again there are those deranged individuals that perhaps derive pleasure from reading about torts. What is this use value? If the law book helps or does not help in my legal case, will this then retroactively give a use value to the law book?

You see the difficulties here.

Some things I want to explore:

What was information, did it exist, before capitalism?

What is the relationship between information and exchange?

What is the relationship between knowledge and information?

What is the relationship between information and commodities?



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