[Discuss] Economic value / non value of OSH work

Franz Nahrada f.nahrada at reflex.at
Tue Sep 2 14:32:33 UTC 2014

Dear Joshua,

I am rarely posting to this list because I am not a primarily technical
person, but a social scientist, but your questions provokes me.

My answer would rather be: One cannot simply calculate the value of OSH
work. In our German circle named Oekonux (Economy of Free Software) we had
a legendary presentation done by Stefan Meretz in 2000 - "Linux/GNU is
value free  and thats a good thing". I do not know if a translation exists


The point is that value is the form a product takes that is made for
exchange. It must be an exclusive product that is only available for an
equivalent, representing the equal amount of value. To offer something  of
value, you have to  possess it. Which finally means the best thing is to
produce it. Production therefore is the substance of value, measured in
time. If there is a need for the product, the nature of the need is not
relevant - just that the need represents an equivalent, a quantity of
value that can be exchanged.

Free Software or Hardware designs are not made for exchange, so they
simply have no economic value.

Nobody can determine economic value, its a myth of economists. All the
time people produce too little or too much, so value exists only as a
tendency of approximating the average, which is the very reason why this
ecomnomy is so dynamic and so prone to crisis.

If you would calculate a fee for your OpenSCAD file, the question of value
wourld make sense. then you would be in competition with others trying to
collect money.

But Free Hardware, as Free Software, is embedded in a totally different
logic. Instead of competing, we are cooperating. And in cooperation, the
non-exchange meaning of value rises and rises. In a way, every
contribution becomes priceless ;-) - because it is part of the repository
and available for many future uses.

And in dealing with a monetary and cost world, we might have to argue for
the contributions that we make, asking for a share. 

Michel Bauwens and the P2P Foundation came up with the idea of a P2P
license. They say: businesses appropriate the work of communities and
developers of common goods for free. The more communistic our license
(->GPL), the more capitalistic their appropriation. Therefore we must  ask
for a fee from thoise who do not contribute to the common good.

I think there must be a better solution. We should not compromise the
bridge to the commercial world for a cheap deal. But society has to
acknowledge there is value in what we do. Even if in strict economic terms
there is not. So finding the best solution for this problem will be a
decisive social hack.

all the best

Franz Nahrada
Global Villages Network
Vienna, Austria

The Open Source Hardware Association Discussion List
<discuss at lists.oshwa.org> schreibt:
>I know that many of you has been thinking about how to determine the
>value of OSH work. Are you aware of any methods to calculate absolute
>value in real economic terms?
>For example if you spend an hour of your time making an OpenSCAD file for
>a parametric test tube rack and put it in the public domain - and then
>for the rest of time anyone can download the file, customize the rack for
>their needs and print it for the cost of materials and a tiny amount of
>electricity. How much is that gift worth? 
>Clearly it is more than your opportunity cost or wage for one hour...but
>how much more is the value to humanity?
>Is it:
>(cost to purchase - cost to print) x (number of people downloading it)?
>(hourly wage of person needing a test tube rack) x (number of people
>using it)?
>total value of the test tube market - (cost to print)x (number of racks
>in the market) ....summed for N years?
>As the cost of test tube racks has now decreased it is the total value of
>the current market + a bonus for expanding future use because of lower
>costs + some kind of educational bonus because more schools can afford
>them + some fraction of future discoveries made possible because now part
>of the expense of doing science was decreased.....
>Is there a better way to do this - and get to quantification?

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