[OPE-L] Sraffian surplus vs Marxian surplus

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Jun 27 2006 - 15:22:07 EDT

Thanks for your reply, which is quite reasonable I think. However, I was
really looking for a reference to a specific analytical discussion of
Sraffian vs Marxian concepts of surplus. I tend to think Sraffa was a pretty
good "Marxist" in the sense that his critique did something new, it took the
ruling economic theory of his day, and showed it was riddled with
contradictions and really didn't make sense, and that an alternative was
possible that makes more sense. I'm still thinking about the basic
theoretical concepts involved though.

For instance, a common way of economists' thinking about "equilibrium" is,
that there exists a set of prices such that supply will match demand (and
the suggestion is that unimpeded market activity will tend towards those
prices). But I think the evidence is, that Marx would have thought this
trivia - his real thought would appear to be, that the whole economic
process can be subsumed under the motions of capital, such that a capitalist
market economy is in principle capable of reproducing its own initial
conditions, and thus perpetuate itself as a relatively stable, growing
socio-economic formation (admittedly through booms and busts, i.e. precisely
through market fluctuations). Unlike what Thomas Sekine argues, this does
not necessarily involve the assumption of any market equilibrium at any
time, only the enforcement of property relations, the reproduction of
capitalist social relations, and a "relative degree of satisfaction of
needs", all of which requires the political state from the outset. The very
process of "equilibration" involved (the attempt to match supply and demand)
should also be examined critically, since e.g. some needs are satisfied at
the expense of others, it involves the transformation of producer and
consumer behaviour etc. etc. In reality, financial analysts are interested
in equilibrium theories only insofar as it sheds light on "what the market
will bear" or what price level is most conducive to capital accumulation.
The real question Marx asks about equilibrium is of the type, "if prices for
a type of commodity settle at a certain average level in the real world, why
that level, and not any other?".

Inputs and outputs (and the surplus measures derived from them) can be
thought of as physical (material) products or as price magnitudes based on
costs and revenues, there is an ambiguity here which I think becomes
problematic for Sraffa's theory. But in fact Marx does not even mention
inputs and outputs himself, he refers to amounts of capital value which are
transformed into larger amounts of capital value (through production, but
not only production). You might say, "the production of capital by means of

Dumenil and Foley ("new solution") suggest that one of the famous two
identities (total price = total value) should be interpreted as the equality
of the value and price of aggregate net output, but (1) if you carefully
examine the concept of aggregate net output, you find that it relies itself
on a grossing and netting procedure informed by a value theory which in some
respects is quite alien to Marx's intention. I think I have referred to this
before on this list and on PEN-L. Lurking in the background is a second,
*accounting* concept of "equilibrium", in balance-sheet terms. The economy
is in balance if the balance-sheets are in balance. So anyway really I think
that the "aggregation problem" noticed by Sraffa/Robinson is a special case
of a more general aggregation problem, and their critique could be extended.
(2) prices and the money supply apply not just to new outputs produced, but
to all kinds of assets, and by implication the "new solution" implies a
specific position on monetary theory - supposing that we can aggregate a
total net output price expressed in currency units, that these currency
units would exactly express the Marxian value of the net product. I think
various conceptual confusions are involved here, the main one being a
conflation of an empirical indicator with the real relationship it tries to



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