Sraffa on Value
glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Sat Jun 10 11:22:32 MDT 1995
On Sat, 10 Jun 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:
Sraffa proved against Marx that use of labor values as the cost
> of commodities will lead to a situation when the economy cannot be
> reproduced. That's Steve's point (right Steve?).
Sraffa made it clear that his purpose was to critique neoclassical
economic theory. Steve made this clear in a previous post. Steve quotes
Steedman on the relevance of labor values. Steedman, unlike Sraffa,
sought to critique Marx (in MARX AFTER SRAFFA).
> I also like Sraffa's argument, not discussed by Steve, that prices can be
> determined without reference to values, using only information about the
> physical conditions of production and the wage data. This renders appeal
> to value superfluous.
I think the above argument, also, is Steedman's rather than Sraffa's. If
"prices can be determined without reference to values", this does not
necessarily make an "appeal to value superfluous" (although this was
Steedman's argument). Is the purpose of value theory to explain price
changes? I think not. This is one of the areas of disagreement related
to the "transformation problem" and its importance.
. I don't have a price theory, a general theory of value, or an
> account of the laws of motion of capitalism beyond a rather qualitative
> historical materialist account. I regard that as a probledm (a big one!)
> to be solved, or at any rate worked on. Probably by peopke with training
> or competence in economics. I'm a philosopher and political scientist
> myself, heading towards a law degree.
Perhaps Justin will agree with me that a philosopher (soon to be lawyer)
with a "rather qualitative historical materialist account" can be able
to bring something important to our understanding of these issues. Many
disputes in political economy, historically, have been methodological,
rather than quantitative, in nature. I would suggest that a
understanding of the qualitative side of value (the value-form) is more
essential than the quantitative issues. By the way, I.I. Rubin's work,
ESSAYS ON MARX'S THEORY OF VALUE (Detroit, Black and Red, 1972) is an
important book on this topic.
> I suggest that for an introduction to the arguments, if you fing Steve's
> unclear, that you look at Hpward and King, The Political Economy of Marx,
> 2nd ed., chs 8-11 and the articles by Steedman and Wright in The Value
There are many books and articles on this subject. If you are going to
read the Steedman and Wright articles in THE VALUE CONTROVERSY (Verso,
1981), I would suggest that you read the WHOLE book. Another work that
Chris and others might find interesting is Ben Fine ed. THE VALUE
DIMENSION (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
Many of these same issues are being discussed on the Pen-L list.
> > 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.
> > Thanks,
> > Chris Burford, London
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