Digital Information and Value: A Response to Jakob Rigi

  • Bryan Parkhurst Oberlin College


In a series of recent articles, Jakob Rigi has formulated an articulate and sophisticated Marxian view about the relationship between digital production and value theory. Anyone interested in the economic dynamics of FAMGA (Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon) needs to come to terms with the position Rigi stakes out. In this article, I challenge Rigi’s thesis that profits from the sale of digital information (DI) constitute rent. I do so by calling into question his conclusions concerning the valuelessness of DI. After summarising Rigi’s core position and sketching out its entailments, I make the case that (1) Rigi’s assertions about the intrinsic valuelessness of DI are not supported by the model of production he invokes; that (2) Rigi’s valuelessness argument in fact presupposes that DI has value; that (3) far from furnishing evidence that DI is valueless and therefore a source of rent income, as Rigi holds, the existence of the intellectual property regime is precisely what allows DI to act as a congealment of value (i.e. labour time) in commodity form; and that (4) Rigi misapplies Marx’s notion of reproduction to the sale/copy/distribution of DI. I offer this critique as an invitation for us to rethink, from a Marxian perspective, the status of the digital economy within the order of global capitalist value production.

Reflections (Non Peer-Reviewed)