Monday, March 10, 2008

Marxists Against Sraffians

It's been years since I read these references:
  • Frank Roosevelt (1975). "Cambridge Economics as Commodity Fetishism", Review of Radical Political Economics, V. 7: 1-32.
  • Bob Rowthorn (1974). "Neo-Classicism, neo-Ricardianism and Marxism", New Left Review, V. 86: 63-87.
I just felt like pointing out that some Marxists attack neo-Ricardianism. In fact, the label "Neo-Ricardianism" was coined as an insult.


Anonymous said...

Hey Robert,

See also: Anwar Shaikh [1982]: "Neo-Ricardian economics: a wealth of algebra, a poverty of theory", Review of Radical Political Economics, 1982; 14:67-83 - available on Shaikh's website:

More cogent than Rowthorn in my opinion. Also I have heard of an article by Maurice Dobb from the 1970s spoken highly of by Joan Robinson I think, in which he called for greater understanding between the sides of this debate, which was apparently quite heated in the 1970s. Some of the debate is collected in Jesse Schwartz's book 'The Subtle Anatomy of Capitalism' - I think the Roosevelt piece you mention is in there.

Mike Beggs

Patch said...

Some years ago, professor Helmedag ( - from Chemnitz/Germany) had a debate with in Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik with Kurz and some others (Graz/Switzerland). Helmedags critic aims at the fact that in a production price system, the choice of the numéraire determines the matematical properties of the Sraffian price system. His conclusion is that only a correctly used labour theory of value can avoid the inconsistencies of the Sraffian and those of the Neoclassical system. He has written a book "Warenproduktion mittels Arbeit: Zur Rehabilitation des Wertgesetzes" (Production of commodities by means of labour: Concerning the rehabilitation of the law of value")

Robert Vienneau said...

Yes, these references are only selections from a large literature. I think the two I picked are the earliest Marxist attacks on Sraffians, at least in English. Of course, Steedman's Marx after Sraffa is likely to provoke Marxists. Garegnani's attitude (in, e.g., a symposium in the International Journal of Political Economy, 28 (3), Fall 1998) that the labor theory of value was a technical work-around, now unneeded for those of us that can solve systems of linear equations, is not likely to please Marxists either.

I don't know Professor Helmedag. Kliman and Freeman collaborate with a large group. Does Helmedag work within that group?

Two anti-Sraffian collections I have handy are The Value Dimension: Marx versus Ricardo and Sraffa (ed. by Ben Fine, Routledge and Kegan, 1986) and Ricardo, Marx, Sraffa: The Langston Memorial Volume (ed. by Ernest Mandel and Alan Freeman, Verso, 1984). The latter has a chapter by Shaikh.

Mike Beggs said...

Yeah - depends on the Marxist. I don't see Marx as holding a labour theory of value and I certainly never feel the need in practical work to calculate 'labour values'; in fact feeling the need to do this implies a misconception about what Marx was doing.

As far as I can tell Marx's 'prices of production', though explained in V3 as if they developed through competition from an imaginary initial state in which commodities exchanged at their 'values', are actually very much in the Ricardian tradition. (Although Marx is more attuned to the effects of changes in demand and there are passages that anticipate Marshallian concepts like price elasticity etc.) If it is not assumed that there ever was such an imaginary starting point, there is no real problem. 'Value', aka abstract labour-time, remains only as a kind of standard of value.

This is why some marxist economists like Shaikh, Rowthorn, etc emphasise what is missing in Sraffa rather than arguing that the project is fundamentally misconceived - dynamics of any kind, the broader social environment, wage determination etc. Sraffa's strength is in drawing Ricardian equilibrium analysis to its logical conclusions. To the extent that Pasineti, Garegnani etc are expanding the system to incorporate dynamics, capital accumulation etc, that's great and has much in common with the Marxian project.

Marx's contribution was never about improving the general Ricardian explanation for relative prices, and he never saw it as such. Hardly any of Capital is about relative prices. I disagree with those marxists who imply that Marx defended a 'labour theory of value' except as a rough working hypothesis.

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