Making Surplus Visible: A National Accounts Approach
It was demonstrated in Chapter 2 how the concept of surplus was used in Classical Political Economy and it was suggested that the concept may prove useful for analyzing the causes of economic growth. This chapter 1 examines some recent attempts to construct a measure of the surplus, and an Alternative method of measuring surplus is developed. The "surplus approach" 2 utilizes mainly national accounts. A number of studies, to which references are given in the following, have attempted to construct measures of the economic surplus. Without exception, these studies have relied on material not generally available for underdeveloped countries--such as information on the number of pure rentiers in rural areas. These studies may have their merits, but it is rather difficult to render them comparable to other studies or to repeat them for different time periods. The major advantages of relying on national accounts are, first, that such statistics are often compiled according to the United Nations' Systems of National Accounts (SNA), thus making international comparisons possible and, second, that national accounts are published rather regularly, thus making it possible to study the development of the surplus over time (which, typically, is impossible using the "rare data" method).
Since the publication in 1957 of Paul Baran The Political Economy of Growth, a number of studies have attempted to operationalize the hypotheses and test the propositions generated in this and the companion volume by Baran and Paul Sweezy ( 1966). In particular, the attempts have been to produce an operationable definition of "surplus." This is an important subject, both because Baran's hypotheses are sufficiently interesting and provoking to deserve close scrutiny and because--as was argued in Chapter 2--surplus as an analytical concept may assist in the analysis of the causes and cures of underdevelopment. As will be argued, however, neither Baran's nor the other studies' surplus concepts are very useful for empirical analysis.