Ouro em Wiener (1989 [1950])

At present, the invention is losing its identity as a [116] commodity in the face of the general intellectual structure of emergent inventions. What makes a thing a good commodity? Essentially, that it can pass from hand to hand with the substantial retention of its value, and that the pieces of this commodity should combine additively in the same way as the money paid for them. The power to conserve itself is a very convenient property for a good commodity to have. For example, a given amount of electrical energy, except for minute losses, is the same at both ends of a transmission line, and the problem of putting a fair price on electric energy in kilowatt-hours is not too difficult. A similar situation applies to the law of the conservation of matter. Our ordinary standards of value are quantities of gold, which is a particularly stable sort of matter (Wiener 1989 [1950]:115-6)

In considering information or order from the economic point of view, let us take as an example a piece of gold jewelry. The value is composed of two parts: the value of the gold, and that of the “façon,” or workmanship. When an old piece of jewelry is taken to the pawnbroker or the appraiser, the firm value of the piece is that of the gold only. Whether a further allowance is made for the façon or not depends on many factors, such as the persistence of the seller, the style in favor when it was made, the purely artistic craftsmanship, the historical value of the piece for museum purposes, and the resistance of the buyer. (Wiener 1989 [1950]:116)

Many a fortune has been lost by ignoring the difference between these two types of values, that of the gold and that of the façon. The stamp market, the rare book market, the market for Sandwich glass and for Duncan Phyfe furniture are all artificial, in the sense that in addition to the real pleasure which the possession of such an object gives to its owner, much of the value of the façon pertains not only to the rarity of the object itself, but to the momentary existence of an active group of buyers competing for it. A depression, which limits the group of possible buyers, may divide it by a factor of four or five, and a great treasure vanishes into nothing just for want of a competitive purchaser. Let another new popular craze supplant the old in the attention of the prospective collectors, and again the bottom may drop out of the market. There is no permanent common denominator of collectors’ taste, at least until one approaches the highest level of aesthetic value. Even then the prices paid for great paintings are colossal reflections of the desire of the purchaser for the reputation of wealth and connoisseurdom. (Wiener 1989 [1950]:117)

WIENER, Norbert. 1989 [1950]. The human use of human beings: cybernetics and society. London: Free Association Books.