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

From: Ian Wright <>
Date: Tue Dec 08 2009 - 17:05:19 EST

Hi Gary

I'd wager that Sraffa avoided dynamics because it was out of his
technical reach, rather than being a consequence of methodological
purity or consistency. For example, it took him years to master the
consequences of his simultaneous equations. I agree however that
aspects of PCMC can be read as a "Wittgensteinian"
conceptual-philosophical analysis of economic ideology, rather than an
analysis of economic reality. But other aspects of PCMC cannot; for
example, Sraffa offers some novel modeling approaches to joint
production, fixed capital etc. PCMC is not pure conceptual analysis.
It's also an attempt to model economic reality.

I must say that I find the recent spate of articles that link Sraffa
and Wittgenstein in some kind of virtuous circle of deep philosophical
insight very thin and tenuous.

Sraffa discusses conditions necessary for the reproduction of an
economic system. Why talk about this? Surely because the background of
his work is economic reality and the fact that the economy reproduces
its own conditions of reproduction over time. So rather than being
independent of economic dynamics I'd say that PCMC only makes sense if
we assume the existence of such dynamics.

For example, the post-Sraffa literature seems to split into two camps:
those that claim that Sraffa is providing an analysis of classical
"long-period" equilibrium (self-replacing equilibrium), and those that
claim Sraffa is making a more restricted logical point about the
meaning of the production of surplus (distributional event). I think
that the clash of metaphors between "self-replacing equilibrium" and a
"distributional event" is real in Sraffa's work, which is reflected in
the subsequent appearance of these competing interpretations. In other
words, I am not convinced that Sraffa is entirely consistent, as many
Sraffa interpreters seem to want to prove. I'm more inclined to Joan
Robinson's point of view that Sraffa gives us "half an equilibrium
system", a kind of attempt to model economic change (the production of
a genuine surplus) with static tools (simultaneous equations).

Instead of trying to squeeze scientific progress out of the very arid
PCMC the way forward, I think, is to develop dynamic models of
economic change that support both interpretations, i.e. models that
(i) include economic mechanisms that operate over time and generate a
tendency toward long-period equilibrium, but (ii) get disrupted by
technological progress, which generates a "surplus" entailing
distributional conflict. As you might guess, I see Marx as the
starting point, and not Sraffa. Marx devoted considerable time and
effort to studying the differential calculus since, as a dialectician,
he was of course concerned to understand the "laws of motion" of
capitalist society, both qualitatively and quantitatively. In
contrast, Sraffa, and many of his followers, seem content to stick
with statics, i.e. pre-Newtonian (pre-calculus) mathematics, and
there's also a nihilistic branch that rejects the existence of
convergent supply/demand dynamics in markets altogether.

IMHO, the current "Sraffa worship" unfortunately overshadows the
contribution of his pupil, Pasinetti, who is much the more important
economist, and has produced a much more interesting body of work.

Best wishes,
ope mailing list
Received on Tue Dec 8 17:08:10 2009

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