Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sraffa at Corfu

"[O]ne should emphasize the distinction between two types of measurement. First, there was the one in which the statisticians were mainly interested. Second, there was measurement in theory. The statisticians' measures were only approximate and provided a suitable field for work in solving index number problems. The theoretical measures required absolute precision. Any imperfections in these theoretical measures were not merely upsetting, but knocked down the whole theoretical basis. One could measure capital in pounds or dollars and introduce this into a production function. The definition in this case must be absolutely water-tight, for with a given quantity of capital one had a certain rate of interest so that the quantity of capital was an essential part of the mechanism. One therefore had to keep the definition of capital separate from the needs of statistical measurement, which were quite different. The work of J. B. Clark, Bohm-Bawerk and others was intended to produce pure definitions of capital, as required by their theories, not as a guide to actual measurement. If we found contradictions, then these pointed to defects in the theory, and an inability to define measures of capital accurately. It was on this - the chief failing of capital theory - that we should concentrate rather than on problems of measurement." -- Piero Sraffa, Interventions in the debate at the Corfu Conference on the "Theory of Capital", 4-11 September 1958.

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