[OPE-L:1498] Re: Math, numbers and a quiz

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Thu, 14 Mar 1996 09:44:27 -0800

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Simon asked in [OPE-L:1497]:

> 'Despite Marx's firm grasp of algebra, he was never at ease in reckoning
> with figures, i.e. in commercial calculations, even though there is a thick
> sheaf of notebooks in which he worked through all the various kinds of
> commercial calculation in several examples. But knowledge of the proper
> rules of calculation is not at all the same thing as exercise in the
> everyday practical calculations of the trader, and in his turnover
> calculations Marx became confused, with the result that, apart from being
> incomplete, they contain many errors and contradictions.'
> Who wrote it?
> Where?

Sorry, I don't have the answer. It sure sounds like Joan Robinson.
However, a brief review of her book on Marx and relevant articles from
her _Collected Economic Papers_ did not net the desired result. However,
I came across the following quote of relevance:

"There is no difficulty, however, of choosing numbers which satisfy the
requirements of the model. The numerical examples derived from Marx's
jottings are cumbersome and confusing, but a clear and simple model can
be constructed on the basis of the assumptions set out in chapter 7"
("Rosa Luxemburg's 'Accumulation of Capital'" in _Collected Economic
Papers_, Volume Two, Cambridge, The MIT Press, 1980, p. 63).

Didn't Robinson write elsewhere, in typical scathing fashion, about the
limitations of formal algebraic models? I wonder: why have the writings
on the limitations of math by the early "Cambridge economists" been
forgotten? As I can recall, even some neo-neoclassicals like Oscar
Morgenstern also pointed to the limitations of mathematical economics.

In OPE-L Solidarity,