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Sraffa's path to Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities


  • Giancarlo de Vivo


The present article provides a reconstruction of the path followed by Sraffa in the long journey (begun in the late 1920s) which brought him to his 1960 book. The starting point of Sraffa's research was the formulation of his cost-price equations, which surprisingly enough appear to have been derived neither from Ricardo's theory of value, nor from Marx's 'transformation of values into prices of production', but rather from Marx's reproduction schemes, published in volume II of Capital , to which Sraffa was almost certainly brought by his study of Marx's interpretation of Physiocratic theory in volume I of Theories of Surplus Value . The main device that Sraffa used in his attempts to bring to light the existence of solutions to his system and their properties, which basically meant building a consistent wage--profit--price relationship, was that of somehow cutting out the prices from this relationship. The paper shows that different routes were attempted by Sraffa to achieve this end, and that the main influences on these attempts were Ricardo and Marx, in particular Ricardo's corn-ratio theory of profits, and the related conception of a maximum rate of profits. In the course of his research, Sraffa was helped by some distinguished mathematicians, in particular Frank P. Ramsey and Abram S. Besicovitch. Of Ramsey's contribution there are important traces, but no more than traces, while ample records remain of the relationship between Sraffa and Besicovitch, and they will play an important part in the story told in this paper. Copyright 2003, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Giancarlo de Vivo, 2003. "Sraffa's path to Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities," Contributions to Political Economy, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 1-25, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:copoec:v:22:y:2003:i:1:p:1-25

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