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Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative Methods

The Other Sraffa - Surprises in the Archive?

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f) Scott Carter (The University of Tulsa, USA)
The Standard Commodity, Labor Commanded, and the Rate of Exploitation in Sraffa's Political Economy

The idea that the Standard commodity in Sraffa's analysis was in a fundamental sense an index or measure of the Marxian rate of exploitation is not new, going at least as far back as Joan Robinson (1965), Maurice Dobb (1970; 1973), and Ronald Meek (1967) in the 1960s and John Eatwell (1974, 1975) and Alfredo Medio (1972) in the mid 1970s. We refer to this group of scholars as the Cantabrigian or Cambridge Marxist school of thought regarding Sraffa's theory.

The basic premise in this approach conceives the Standard commodity as exposing ("rendering clear what is hidden") the exploitive relations behind the process of the extraction of unpaid labor or surplus value (Marx's Mehrwert) and its subsequent distribution to the owners of capital according to the value of capital advanced. Key in this approach is the notion of wages as a share in the value-added by workers (command of the value-added) as opposed to the value of consumption goods in the subsistence bundle that workers purchase with their wage. This approach to Sraffa is rejected both by Marxists (de Brunhoff 1974, Laibman 1974; Sinha 2000) as well as Sraffians (Steedman 1980; Garegnani 1984; Roncaglia 1978; Kurz and Salvadri, 1987).

Recent evidence uncovered from Sraffa's unpublished papers however allows us to revisit this Cantabrigian Marxist interpretation. Based in the groundbreaking work of Bellofiore (2008, 2010) and continuing the work begun by Carter (2009, 2010), this paper documents the importance that the Marxian theory of exploitation had for Sraffa's own intellectual development (as opposed to that of the Sraffians) and argues that this becomes quite explicit in the last of the three different variants of the Standard commodity that appear in Chapter V of Sraffa (1960), specifically when he replaces the "attenuated function" of the Standard net product with the "quantity of labour that can be purchased" by it - i.e. the labor commanded standard.

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University of Bergamo


December 21-22, 2010
aula 3, via Salvecchio 19
University of Bergamo - Bergamo Alta, Italy