Advanced Search
MyIDEAS: Login

Professor Samuelson on Sraffa and the classical economists


Author Info

  • Pierangelo Garegnani


In this article, part of an ongoing discussion, Samuelson (2000) is taken as the occasion for a critical examination of Samuelson's work on the classical economists and Sraffa, a subject of continuing interest for that author, especially after Sraffa (1960). The article argues for the existence in Smith and Ricardo of an alternative approach to distribution and prices, and it aims at a critique of Samuelson's contention that 'Smith, Ricardo and J.S. Mill used essentially the same logical paradigm as did Walras and Arrow Debreu' (2000: 140). In the first two sections, the attempt by Arrow (1991) to detect in Ricardo a theory of prices independent of demand—and founded instead on a real wage determined separately from, though not necessarily independently of, prices and the non-wage distributive variables—is considered with its implication of the wage entering the determination of the latter as an 'intermediate datum' of the theory. This then makes it possible to outline the characteristic analysis we find in Smith and Ricardo, where the wage as 'intermediate datum' entails a similar treatment of the output levels. The resulting theoretical structure is then used in order to answer, in sections III and IV, the two basic criticism, that Samuelson has advanced against Sraffa (1960). While the claimed dependence of the (1960) prices on an assumption of constant returns is voided by the mentioned treatment of outputs as intermediate data, the relevance of the Standard commodity, as well as that of Ricardo's 'invariable measure of value' is explained by the needs of determining non-wage incomes as a difference or 'residual', the essence of the theoretical structure under consideration. Section V then deals more directly with Samuelson's denial of the existence of a classical paradigm of economic theory. His arguments and interpretations are found to be in contrast with central features of Smith and Ricardo's work and, in particular, with their theory of wages. Thus, the admission of labour unemployment in 'normal' competitive positions compels Samuelson to a highly questionable interpretation of the chapter 'On Machinery' in Ricardo's Principles. In section VI, finally, the attribution to 'Sraffian literature' of a central concern for what Samuelson sees as 'steady states', but are in fact the traditional 'normal positions' of the economy leads the article to the deficiencies of neoclassical theory—an issue inevitably underlying the debate on the Classical paradigm. The dependence of the traditional versions of the theory, based on normal positions, on the notion of capital as a single magnitude—which forced the generalized abandonment of those versions in pure theory after the early stages of the capital controversies—is argued to emerge as equally present in the contemporary reformulations of the theory, thus affecting them, it is argued, no less than it did the abandoned earlier versions.

Download Info

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

Volume (Year): 14 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 181-242

as in new window
Handle: RePEc:taf:eujhet:v:14:y:2007:i:2:p:181-242

Contact details of provider:
Web page:

Order Information:

Related research

Keywords: Samuelson; Sraffa; classical economists; neoclassical theory; capital; wages; demand and supply; distribution; surplus theories;


No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.


Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
as in new window

Cited by:
  1. Bellino, Enrico, 2009. "The Classical approach to distribution and the “natural system”," MPRA Paper 14901, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  2. Bellino, Enrico & Nerozzi, Sebastiano, 2013. "Causality and interdependence in Pasinetti's works and in the modern classical approach," MPRA Paper 52179, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Stirati, Antonella, 2014. "Real wages in the business cycle: an unresolved conflict between theory and facts in mainstream macroeconomics," MPRA Paper 53743, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  4. Heinz D. Kurz, 2011. "Von Fall und Wiedeaufstieg einiger Ideen von Lord Keynes. Oder: Zum trostlosen Zustand einer "elenden Wissenschaft"," Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft - WuG, Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte für Wien, Abteilung Wirtschaftswissenschaft und Statistik, vol. 37(1), pages 15-36.


This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.


Access and download statistics


When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:eujhet:v:14:y:2007:i:2:p:181-242. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Michael McNulty).

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.