Sraffa on Value

Chris Burford cburford at
Fri Jun 9 07:39:24 MDT 1995

Hello Justin,

On Tuesday 6th, you replied to me on value with a post that
cut my previous post into 8 pieces. I think this would be very
hard for anyone else to follow. I will just pick out the argument
about Sraffa because I had felt you used Sraffa as a sort of theoretical
fact to question Marx's law of value, without going into Sraffa's
arguments, some of which you do not accept. Your Tuesday post does
however take things a step further.

Part of the post goes likes this:

Cb: > Many factors conspire to make Sraffa appear authoritative, and the
> net effect is damaging.

Yeah, like the fact that he derives deductively valid results which show
that prices can be calculated on the basis of wage data and technical
production conditions without references to values. This is a _theorem_.
Its significance is debatable, like any theorem. But its validity is not.

> I would like to hear Sraffa's negative account.

Gee, didn't Steve Keen publish a nice account of Sraffa for the list? Or
was that pen-l? I'll ask him to post it to Marxism.


Steve did post a summary of Sraffa which was not discussed on this
list at all, which was interesting in itself. After an interval I
re-read it and decided I did not understand the first paragraph
of the systematic theoretical explanation and on 24th May I posted to
Steve privately to ask for a clarification.
Steve unfortunately must have left or been tidying up because he
subsequently posted that he would be returning early July.

I had intended to wait till then.

But since his summary of Sraffa is in the public sphere on this list
and since, Justin, you regard it as authoritative, perhaps it is fair
to ask if you can explain it. After all Steve was only attempting to
summarise, not necessarily to defend. You are willing to defend as far
as Sraffa's "negative account" of the law of value is concerned.

I have two problems:

1) Steedman's chart that Steve uses is so condensed that I cannot find
my way round it.
I would like an explanation in very elementary terms as to what column
is what and how the columns relate to each other.

2) my second difficulty is also relevant for your previous post, if you
consider that Sraffa derives *deductively* valid results. The premise
appears to be that iron can turn into gold. This appears to have more
to do with mediaeval alchemy than with any model of a real economy.

I remain to be convinced that this left-wing non-Marxist emperor is
fully clothed.

Can you help me at least understand Steve's  paragraph if indeed
it does represent Sraffa's position? Or post a para from Sraffa's
own work so I can judge it in its own terms?


(5) His formal system was an algebraic version of the following
(which I have lifted from Steedman's _Marx after Sraffa_ (which
is generally very mathematical, but which he does illustrate
with arithmetic examples):

		Inputs			Outputs
		Iron	Labor		Iron	Gold	Corn
Iron Industry	28	56	-->	56
Gold Industry	16	16	-->		48
Corn Industry	12	8	-->			8
Total		56	80	-->	56	48	8

This is obviously mythical (it shows gold being produced by iron
and labor), but it illustrates a few points. Firstly, production
is a process that "transforms" inputs into quantifiable but
qualitatively different outputs. Secondly, it takes both
commodity inputs and labor to produce anything. Thirdly, since
56 units of steel are used up producing the total output of 56
units of steel, 48 of gold and 8 of corn, this system is in
"simple reproduction", since it only produces enough steel to
reproduce the same outputs the next time round. Thus the net  *
output is the 48 units of gold and 8 units of corn (these could
be 48 ounces and 8 tonnes, by the way; they don't have to be in
the same units).

If anyone else can help too, that would be useful to test on this
list the robustness of Sraffa's model.


Chris Burford, London

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