RE: SV: [OPE] Sraffa's and others' writing style

From: Anders Ekeland <>
Date: Tue Dec 08 2009 - 15:15:08 EST

I cannot but interpret Gary's otherwise than as a certain support for
my general view that one should - for the advancement of
science/politics/the future of human kind try to engage with - be in
dialogue with other theories, try to situate your contribution in the
theoretical/political landscape. Not that you have to - it just helps a lot.

When it comes to why on earth Sraffa did not do that, why he one
published static - "stripped to the bones" version - I too can only
speculate - that following Ricardo (and maybe Wittgenstein in a
philosophical sense) that only a "static" model could say something
precise - however irrelevant it would be in describing the dynamic
reality of capitalism.

This is the fundamental problem of static economics - neo-classical
and Sraffian - either realistic and relevant "imprecise" or
irrelevant (in the neo-classical case, mainly ideological - that's
why this unscientific approach is so long-lived) and "precise".

But dynamic theory in economics is just as dynamic theory in weather
forecasting, scientifically correct, but given the chaotic nature of
the phenomena - not very good at prediction, not very "precise".

IMO the critical use of Sraffa's book - as a critique of marginalism
- long ago was overwhelmed by the landslide of irrelevant and
anti-dynamic, anti-Marxian linear algebra, Sinha's last article is
just such an excellent illustration of in what a sterile spot you end
up - when you do not want to see the static limitations of PoC.


At 19:24 08.12.2009, you wrote:
>Content-Class: urn:content-classes:message
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>Ian, I don't think your remark is pedantic. Yes, of course, he,
>Sraffa, decided in the end not to broach a topic which he may not
>have sorted out to his own satisfaction. And like all of us he was
>limited by his background & training. But I doubt the sticking point
>was his own technical limitations. He could have learned the tools
>that were available at the time to analyze dynamic problems--just as
>he learned the mathematics he needed to address the value theoretic
>problems he discusses in the book. He had colleagues at his disposal
>at Cambridge--not just the mathematicians Besicovich, Ramsey and
>Watson, but physicists as well--who could have assisted with
>questions about stability etc.
>Were I a betting man, however, I'd wager the reason he didn't pursue
>work in that direction was that he didn't think it would bear fruit.
>I used the term Wittgensteinian deliberately, to suggest that he may
>have regarded dynamic problems as fundamentally messy, as contingent
>on human behavior & accidental circumstances in a way that the
>narrower issues discussed in PoC are not: we would need to use the
>tools of the historian, the political scientist, the anthropologist,
>the psychologist and the sociologist to address those dynamic issues
>I am agnostic on whether formal dynamic models can tell us a great
>deal about real-world economic & social processes. No doubt they can
>tell us some genuinely useful things. No doubt they cannot tells us
>as much as we would like them to tell us. I only want to
>suggest--and I repeat that this is highly speculative--that Sraffa
>may have had been skeptical that much could be got from such models.
>That said, he appears to have had in mind a subsequent work to PoC,
>that would take up accumulation.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: on behalf of Ian Wright
>Sent: Tue 12/8/2009 12:27 PM
>To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
>Subject: Re: SV: [OPE] Sraffa's and others' writing style
> > I agree that Sraffa was not aiming to call the classical
> notion of gravitation into question. In Production of
> > Commmodities he scrupulously avoided saying anything at
> all about gravitation, I suspect out of a
> > Wittgensteinian desire to stick to issues about which one
> could speak with absolute precision.
> Shouldn't that be "about which *he* could speak with
> absolute precision"?
> Sorry to be pedantic, just want to point out that Sraffa
> only operated
> at the foothills of linear algebra and therefore his ability to speak
> precisely (in the way that he wanted) was restricted by his
> particular
> training (or lack of it).
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Received on Tue Dec 8 15:27:07 2009

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