Including a Symposium on New Directions in Sraffa Scholarship: Volume 35B

Cover of Including a Symposium on New Directions in Sraffa Scholarship

Table of contents

(16 chapters)


Pages i-xv
Click here to view access options

Part I A Symposium on New Directions in Sraffa Scholarship


Resurgent interest in the life and work of the Italian Cambridge economist Piero Sraffa is leading to New Directions in Sraffa Scholarship. This chapter introduces readers to some of these developments. First and perhaps foremost is the fact that as of September 2016 Sraffa’s archival material has been uploaded onto the website of the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge University, as digital colour images; this chapter introduces readers to the history of these events. This history provides sharp relief on the extant debates over the role of the archival material in leading to the final publication of Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, and readers are provided a brief sketch of these matters. The varied nature of Sraffa scholarship is demonstrated by the different aspects of Sraffa’s intellectual legacy which are developed and discussed in the various entries of our Symposium. The conclusion is reached that we are on the cusp of an exciting phase change of tremendous potential in Sraffa scholarship.


This chapter provides a list and a brief description of files and documents where the name of Piero Sraffa is mentioned and are currently kept at the Archivio Centrale dello Stato and at the Archivio Storico Diplomatico. For each file or document we provide indication of the reference number where it is conserved and a transcription of one or two of the relevant documents out of more than 500 which have been located. The purpose of the chapter is to illustrate the results of archival research of the last decade, including more recent findings, and furnish a groundwork for further research, which may throw further light on documents already known to us, and lead to the discovery of new documents or information, so as to provide a better basis for the reconstruction of the biography of Piero Sraffa and of people whose lives entwined with his – Antonio Gramsci certainly ranking high among them.


The essay builds a timeline of the friendship and intellectual intercourse between Sraffa and Wittgenstein with data from both their Cambridge Pocket Diaries (CPDs) and their correspondence and biography. The timeline distinguishes five phases: their first meetings until June 1930, the time in which their weekly conversations run uninterrupted (October 1930–June 1933); the period in which the enchantment of their previous meetings was broken (October 1933–July 1936); the following decade in which their meetings were in some years intense, in others nearly inexistent, until Sraffa decided to put an end to their conversations; and finally the years preceding Wittgenstein’s death. The meetings between Sraffa and Wittgenstein from their CPDs are listed in the Appendix.


The present essay re-examines the scope of Sraffa’s critique of Marshall’s supply curves that the former developed in his 1925 and 1926 articles showing that neoclassical supply curves derived from non-proportional returns are not robust both in the short and in the long run. After examining what a short-run and a long-run equilibrium means both for the original Sraffa’s articles and for Marshall’s pioneer contribution, the chapter discusses the common procedure in conventional economics to introduce the limitations to the growth of the firm. The argument of the chapter will be based on the 1920s articles as well as on the ‘Lectures on Advanced Theory of Value’ delivered in 1928–1931 by Sraffa at Cambridge University, now publicly available online by the Wren library, Trinity College, Cambridge. For short-run analysis, it must be assumed that the number of firms is fixed. This assumption entails serious problems with regards to the notions of competition and competitive behaviour. For long-run analysis, the sources of increasing costs are problems of management and control. However, this idea is untenable both on logical and empirical grounds. We argue that contemporary mainstream microeconomic treatment of costs and supply in the context of perfect competition still presents several problems. These problems, rather than being superficial, lie at the root of the supply and demand approach of value and distribution.


In his 1931 unpublished “Surplus Product” manuscript Sraffa used an open–closed distinction to explain the relationship between the “economic field” and distribution. This chapter examines Sraffa’s thinking in this regard, and shows how it allowed him to resolve a problem he encountered in his early objectivist representation of commodity production in economies with a surplus. The chapter argues that Sraffa adopted a view different from Bertalanffy’s general systems theory understanding of open and closed systems developed around the same time in such a way as to address the specific nature of economics. The chapter compares two related interpretations of Sraffa’s thinking in regard to the open–closed distinction developed by Arena and Ginzburg, and also addresses how Sraffa’s thinking regarding open and closed systems compares with similar thinking of Wittgenstein and Gramsci. The concluding discussion contrasts Sraffa’s causal reasoning with mainstream economics’ ceteris paribus method of causal reasoning.


Capital theory has taken a new turn with the theoretical discovery that wage curves tend to get linear in random systems, the larger they are, and with the confirmation that empirical wage curves do not deviate a great deal from linearity. The present chapter adds to these results by arguing that reswitching becomes less likely for larger systems, while Wicksell effects are almost surely present. But it can also be shown that the elasticity of substitution is likely to be small in random systems so that a policy to lower real wages will not easily generate much additional employment in a closed economy. A new perspective on employment policies is therefore called for.


This essay explores certain aspects of single product industry basic systems of the type Sraffa develops in Part I of Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities. It focusses on triangular trade as the simplest expression of the more general n-commodity case. Two elements of the framework are explored: (i) the relation of exchange between all commodities, conceived as the configuration of exchange which is applicable to the subsistence and surplus models, and (ii) the value/price expressions of labour time, applicable to the surplus model only, which posits the productivity of, remuneration to and extraction from living labour added to the system. This analysis complements and extends the Marxian reading of Sraffa’s notions of surplus and deficit industries first explored in Carter (2014b). The methodology of ‘given quantities’ in expositing the relations developed is adopted in this essay as it corresponds to the same method employed by Sraffa. This allows readers to easily move from the present essay to Sraffa’s book and importantly his archival notes which are now for all interested parties available as colour digital images on the Wren Library website.

Part II Essays


This chapter investigates the nature of the transformation of macroeconomics by focusing on the impact of the Great Depression on economic doctrines. There is no doubt that the Great Depression exerted an enormous influence on economic thought, but the exact nature of its impact should be examined more carefully. In this chapter, I examine the transformation from a perspective which emphasizes the interaction between economic ideas and economic events, and the interaction between theory and policy rather than the development of economic theory. More specifically, I examine the evolution of what became known as macroeconomics after the Depression in terms of an ongoing debate among the “stabilizers” and their critics. I further suggest using four perspectives, or schools of thought, as measures to locate the evolution and transformation; the gold standard mentality, liquidationism, the Treasury view, and the real-bills doctrine. By highlighting these four economic ideas, I argue that what happened during the Great Depression was the retreat of the gold standard mentality, the complete demise of liquidationism and the Treasury view, and the strange survival of the real-bills doctrine. Each of those transformations happened not in response to internal debates in the discipline, but in response to government policies and real-world events.

Click here to view access options

In this chapter, we explore whether various true, endogenous social cycle theories share common patterns and characteristics.

We examine a number of prominent social theories describing cyclical patterns, and attempt to abstract an ideal type common to all of them, based on the idea of two populations disrupting each other and adjusting to the other’s disruptions.

At the core of such theories we typically find a variation of a two-population model. In these theories, cycles emerge when one of the populations seems to disrupt the other population’s plans, leading to recurring adjustments and disruptions that constitute the cycle.

Finding such commonalities in the world of theories can be useful for several reasons. For one thing, noticing that two theories share certain traits may help us understand each of them better. Furthermore, we show that agent-based modelers using modern object-oriented programming techniques can benefit from finding common patterns in theories.

Part III A Collection of Reviews of Thomas C. Leonard’s Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era

Click here to view access options


Pages 397-411
Click here to view access options
Cover of Including a Symposium on New Directions in Sraffa Scholarship
Publication date
Book series
Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN