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THE ROLE OF TECHNICAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS IN THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN NECESSARIES AND SURPLUS: CLASSICAL ECONOMICS AFTER SRAFFA

Richard Arena

Cahiers d’économie politique / Papers in Political Economy, 2015, issue 69, 185-202

Abstract: For more than three decades, Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (Sraffa, 1960) provided the sole source of information for those trying to understand what Sraffa “had really meant.” The opening of the Sraffa Archives in the Wren Library, Cambridge, in 1993 changed this situation by giving scholars access to a very large number of mostly unpublished manuscripts and contributions by Sraffa, thereby rendering the task of uncovering Sraffa’s original message in specific areas of investigation less difficult. One such area of investigation, for which this is particularly true, is the role played by technical and/or social factors in Sraffa’s distinction between “necessaries” and the surplus, especially in the context of his attempt to reconstruct Classical economics. In this context, the notion of surplus plays a pivotal role, and it is therefore natural to return to its definition and its characterization and to explore its real meaning and operationality. The main purpose of this paper is thus to investigate this central role of the notion of surplus. Focusing on the role of technical and social factors in the distinction between necessaries and surplus allows us to lend support to an interpretation of “snapshots” as “perspicuous representations” (in Wittgenstein’s sense, see Arena, 2013 and 2015) of different surplusbased societies. These societies can be associated with different rules of distribution of the price of the surplus and therefore made distinct and compared. This opens the way to a conception of Sraffa’s contribution as concerned with a typological analysis of different economic systems.

Keywords: Surplus; necessaries; income variables. (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2015
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