Further Essays on Economic Theory and Policy

By Nicholas Kaldor; F. Targetti et al. | Go to book overview

14
PIERO SRAFFA (1898-1983)*

Piero Sraffa was one of the most remarkable personalities in Cambridge during the years ( 1927-83) that he spent there--at least this was the judgment of those who knew him, and these were mostly members of the Economics Faculty and the Fellows of the Colleges with which he was associated (King's and Trinity).1

He possessed the rarest combination of qualities--he was a most meticulous scholar, and at the same time he was also a brilliant original thinker. He was a man with an exceptional range of knowledge which extended well beyond his own professional field; a bibliophile who spent endless time in exploring the antiquarian bookshops of Europe, and succeeded, twice in his lifetime (first in Italy and later in England), in building up a unique collection of rare books. And he spoke with equal fluency in at least four languages.

But above all he was a man with the most attractive personality, with a rare capacity for friendship, which caused so many exceptionally clever and gifted men to fall under his spell, both in Italy and England, ranging from Antonio Gramsci, to Maynard Keynes, to Ludwig Wittgenstein and to Raffaele Mattioli, to mention only a few.

He had a subtle and very personal wit, the capacity of making wholly unexpected responses to points raised in a discussion, but above all he had the rare gift of being able to inspire his partners in conversation just by listening with shining eyes. He had that

____________________
*
Originally published in Proceedings of the British Academy, London, Vol. LXXI ( Oxford University Press, 1985).
1
At King's he never held a Fellowship but had high-table rights from the time of his initial appointment, and as he regularly took his meals in College, he was treated as a member of the fraternity, particularly by those who were close to J.M. Keynes, who was the College Bursar (right up to the beginning of the war). He was offered a Fellowship at Trinity College in 1939 as a successor to D.H. Robertson, who taught economics to Trinity undergraduates for many years, but as a result of disagreements with Keynes accepted a Professorship at LSE. (However, on Pigou's retirement Robertson was elected to the Chair of Political Economy in Cambridge, in 1944, after Keynes, who was first approached by the electors, turned it down.)

-277-

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