Re: [OPE-L] gen equ and sraffa

From: ajit sinha (sinha_a99@YAHOO.COM)
Date: Sat Oct 27 2007 - 10:50:41 EDT

--- David Laibman <dlaibman@SCIENCEANDSOCIETY.COM>

> Hi, all.
> I can't get too deeply into the Sraffa discussion,
> but I might just
> interject one small anecdote.  John Eatwell recalls
> discussing with
> Sraffa the question, Why is there not more history,
> dynamics, value,
> theory of exploitation, crisis, accumulation
> tendencies, and so forth,
> in *Production of Commodities*?  Sraffa's reply:
> "Marx already wrote
> that book.  Why should I repeat what has already
> been done?"  So, for
> what it is worth, we have this reported instance of
> Sraffa himself a)
> affirming that he is working in the tradition begun
> by Marx, but that b)
> he is concerned, in this particular book, with a
> narrow topic within
> that tradition: laying the foundation for a logical
> critique of
> neoclassical theory.
>       All best,
>         David
True! But it could cut both ways. There are few more
such anecdotes as part of the legend. What we could
say with reasonable amount of certainty is that Sraffa
was a part of Italian socialists around Gramci since
about 17 years of age. He never lost touch with the
socialist intellectuals and activists of Italy and
played a critical part in preserving Gramci's 'Prison
notebooks' and making his life little better in the
prison by creating an open account in a book store for
him while he was in prison and also by being sort of a
conduit between Gramci and his family. He was also
interested in the soviet experiment and did go to
Moscow to check it out.

However, his socialist symphathies notwithstanding, it
would be a serious mistake, in my opinion, to turn
Sraffa into a 'minor Marxist'! The economists who
surronded Sraffa in the '60s and '70s were basically
Marxists and were quite eager to 'appropriate' Sraffa
in that narrow framework--hence all these anecdotes.
But one thing I find quite intreguing is that they
simply did not prob Sraffa on his philosophical
outlook in general and its relationship with
Wittgenstein's in particular (Amartya Sen, who was not
part of this group but philosophically minded, did
prob him on this during his student days in Cambridge
but did not get much out of him--see Sen in JEL and my
critique of Sen in JEBO). This is almost scandulus in
my opinion. I know some of the very close ones and
smart ones didn't do it because they did not know much
about Wittgenstein's philosophy. But they needed to
read up on Wittgenstein to understand this man and his
intellectual project. Sraffa, in my opinion, was the
sharpest mind economic science has ever seen. It was
not for nothing that Wittgenstein, who arguably was
the sharpest mind in Philosophy of the 20th century,
put Sraffa in his list of geniuses and credited him
for being critical in changing his mind from the
INVESTIGATIONS. So we are dealing with an intellectual
here who, in my opinion, belongs in the same league as
Poincere, Heisenburg, Wittgenstein, etc. His life-long
project was not to prove that capital goods cannot be
aggregated independetly of the rate of profits or
interest or 'transformation problem has a solution or
has no solution. The aesthetics of the book puts it
quite appart from any other economics treatise.  There
must be something more interesting going on here. I
remember reading a paper by Porta (if my memory serves
me right)--this paper was delivered at some conference
in Italy and I'm not sure if it has been published, I
found it at King's College Archives in Richard Kahn's
files--where he suggests that Sraffa was in the
tradition of 19th century great thinkers and thought
in terms of long-time periods. So when he, in the
Preface of the PCMC, says that if the foundations hold
then perhaps he or most likely some younger and more
able scholar could build on it in the future (I don't
have the book at hand right now to quote), he was not
referring to the group of economists surrounding him
but rather thinking of 50 to 100 years in future.
Sraffa was a great detective and his book, in many
ways is a detective challange to others. All the clues
of the murder is given right there on the surface but
it is still not easy to figure out. In my opinion,
usually the clues are given in parentheses--see my
critique of Samuelson and Etula in the most recent
ajit sinha
> glevy@PRATT.EDU wrote:
> >> I personally find PoCbmoC very autistic, not that
> impressing.
> >>
> >
> > Hi Anders:
> >
> > I'm assuming that this is a translation issue:
> right?
> > Rather than autistic (see e.g.
> <>),
> > what word did you intend to write?
> >
> >
> >
> >> How is
> >> it possible to write such a book - and not relate
> more explicitly to
> >> the history of economic ideas, where this book
> places itself in the
> >> theoretical landscape etc. etc.
> >>
> >
> >
> > I think that's one of its chief advantages.  It's
> concise nature keeps the
> > readers' focus on the most important qestions of
> theory from the author's
> > perspective and thus prevents readers from being
> side-tracked into obscure
> > history of thought issues.  In any event, this is
> a question associated
> > with the *form of exposition*. One can make no
> inferences
> > about a writer's ability to critique other
> perspectives and grasp of the
> > history of thought based merely on the absence of
> that material in a
> > particular writing.  As we all know, one of
> Sraffa's strong points was as
> > a historian of economic thought so his not going
> into the history of
> > thought in _PCBMOC_ shows basically nothing about
> the author or the book.
> >
> > In solidarity, Jerry
> >

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