Academic journal article World Review of Political Economy

Reviving the Cambridge Controversy by Combining Marx with Sraffa

Academic journal article World Review of Political Economy

Reviving the Cambridge Controversy by Combining Marx with Sraffa

Article excerpt

Abstract: For the present situation in the teaching of economics, a field where the method of historical materialism is not employed, the mutual dissent between the theories of Marx and Sraffa represents a controversy of a scholastic character. The confirmation of the redundancy of the labor theory of value for the quantitative determination of prices contributed to diverting the attention of theoreticians from the concrete aim of Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities. As a result, the two Cambridges debate was abandoned before real changes in economics textbooks could occur. Although there are other reasons for the lack of a Sraffian impact on the mainstream, this article argues that it is possible to combine the critiques of Marx and Sraffa as a way to focus attention on the Capital Controversies.

Key words: value theory; economics and ideology; political economy; Sraffa; Marx

1. Introduction

The "Sraffa-shock" in the 1960s culminated in a debate between labor-value theoreticians and the followers of "surplus approach" theories, which may have diverted attention from the purpose of Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (henceforth PCC).1 The formal critique on the marginal theory of value was abandoned after the two Cambridges debate ended with few concrete consequences.2 The practical side of Sraffa's book was then rapidly forgotten and its popularity ceased to grow.3 At the same time, the Sraffian model was disseminated in its classical interpretation. As a result, theoreticians began concentrating on the consequences of PCC for the labor theory of value. This originated an intricate controversy between those studying classical political economy and its critique. Since then, the connection between Marx and Sraffa was believed to be unsustainable.

Marxists reacted to the issue in different ways. Initially, the "New Solution" or "New Interpretation" developed originally by Foley (1982), Duménil (1983-84) and Lipietz (1982) played an important political role in uniting authors unsatisfied with the Sraffian paradigm as led by Steedman (1977). Another stream of reaction, under the influence of Rubin ([1927] 1978) and represented for example by Mattick (1972), Heinrich (1999), Fine and Saad-Filho (2010), began to raise the importance of the qualitative aspect of value theory in order to avoid the difficulties of the quantitative relationship between value and price. Another original approach developed as an effort to understand Marx after Sraffa was Farjoun and Machover's (1983) probability model of political economy, which made quite clear that the transformation of value into price is a temporal one.

Recently, the Temporal Single System Interpretation (TSSI), put forward by Kliman and McGlone (1999), Freeman, Kliman and Wells (2004) and Kliman (2007), managed to provide a consistent guide for studying Marx's procedure of transforming values into prices of production as a temporal metamorphosis of a single system representing the set of exchange relations between use values.4 This enabled them to demonstrate that the redundancy claim could not destroy the consistency of Marx's theory of value and that the simultaneist approach to the transformation problem (that of Dmitriev-Bortkiewicz-Okishio-Morishima) is an inferior interpretation of the problem leading necessarily to absolute detachment between the value and price systems, something alien to Marx's project in political economy. Despite being a correct perspective on the issue and also very faithful to Marx's original exposition, the TSSI lacks a political strategy for attacking mainstream neoclassicists and for increasing the influence of Marxism within economics. The main problem is that the TSSI can be used against neo- Ricardianism, but for the present state of development of economic science, this is too advanced for most economists, who are capable of approaching historical materialism only with great caution. For the present state of teaching economics, it is not only important to develop correct interpretations of Capital, as the TSSI seems to aim, but also to think strategically about how to expand the critique of the naturalist conceptions of the capitalist mode of production. …

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