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History of Political Economy 35.3 (2003) 582-586

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Piero Sraffa's Political Economy: A Centenary Estimate. Edited by Terenzio Cozzi and Roberto Marchionatti. London: Routledge, 2001. xxxiii; 416 pp. $90.00.

Piero Sraffa's Political Economy is the best of the volumes that had their origins in the celebrations in 1998 of the centenary of Sraffa's birth. Its uniqueness arises from the use the contributors have made of the opening to scholars of Sraffa's papers in the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge. This has allowed more definitive discussions of Sraffa's lifetime project; of its reduction in scope over the years; the influence of Sraffa's 1925, 1926, and 1930 articles and the themes in his late 1920s–early 1930s lectures on economic theory at Cambridge and elsewhere; the Hayek-Sraffa-Keynes exchanges of the 1930s; Sraffa and Keynes on monetary matters in the 1920s and 1930s; the influence of Marx on Sraffa's thought; and the role of Sraffa's mathematical colleagues and friends in the making of Production of Commodities. The papers throw little extra light on the significance of the two-way intellectual relationship between Sraffa and Ludwig Wittgenstein, because it mainly occurred as long conversations between the two friends. Alessandro Roncaglia's essay (chapter 12) includes an important and convincing account but it is not based on new evidence.

There are four parts to the volume, preceded by a helpful survey of themes in the introduction by Roberto Marchionatti: essays on Sraffa's life; his contributions to Cambridge debates in the 1920s and 1930s; continuity and change in his thought from the 1920s to Production of Commodities in 1960; and specific topics—the open economy and Production of Commodities, Sraffa and the mathematicians, Sraffa's monetary analysis, Sraffa's relationship with Keynes, and Sraffa's "unexpected influences" on Hayek. Each part has article-length chapters and substantial comments on each by participants at the conference held at Turin in the Fondazione Einaudi in October 1998.

In part 1, Angelo D'Orsi presents an absorbing account of Sraffa at university (Turin) and of the major influences on him, including Luigi Einaudi and Antonio Gramsci, and of the environment of Turin itself: "respect for science, attention to methodology and commitment to research" (21). His teachers ranged from Marxists (Achille Loria) to liberals, with all shades of opinion in between. Sraffa received full marks for every subject and high praise for his dissertation.

Nerio Naldi confirms what a detailed knowledge Sraffa had of monetary institutions (he even had a short spell working in a bank) and of working-class relationships in capitalist societies. Sraffa wrote his dissertation on the Italian inflation during the war between May and November 1920. Raffaele Mattioli, most probably Sraffa's closest friend, independently wrote on a similar topic. A major theme was the distinction between the domestic price level and the external value of the currency, analyzed within the framework of the quantity theory of money and putting stability of the first ahead of the second.

Sraffa first met Keynes in England in 1921 when Sraffa was at the LSE. It is possible to discern an influence of Sraffa's views in Keynes's Tract on Monetary Reform (1923). Sraffa also met Herbert Foxwell in London. The reference that Foxwell [End Page 582] wrote for Sraffa for a post in Genoa is favorable and perceptive: "practical knowledge . . . sound judgement. . . theoretical insight and acuteness" (27).

Marchionatti evaluates the 1920s debates on the representative firm and increasing returns, in particular, the nature and significance of Sraffa's contribution to them. Sraffa touched on "a sore point" in Marshall's framework—"the problem of the coexistence of logical consistency and practical relevance" (74). While Sraffa at first thought the imperfect competition road was the way out because the general equilibrium road was too complex, he quickly abandoned it and started on the project that became Production of Commodities, the revival of classical political economy and Marx and their underlying method combined with what eventually became but a prelude to a critique...


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