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Some Experts On The Cambridge Capital Controversy

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Many years ago, I used to argue, on Usenet, about the Cambridge Capital Controversy. Many mainstream economists used to ignorantly assert, when pretending to respond, that an application of the CCC to labor economics was my idea alone. So I used to demonstrate that this was false by quoting from the literature. As far as I can see, mainstream economists are still mostly trained into ignorance. P. Garegnani: "The idea that demand and supply for factors of production determine distribution has become so deeply ingrained in economic thought that it is almost viewed as an immediate reflection of facts, and not as the result of an elaborate theory. For the same reason, it is easily forgotten how comparatively recent that theory is. In the first systematic analysis of value and

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Many years ago, I used to argue, on Usenet, about the Cambridge Capital Controversy. Many mainstream economists used to ignorantly assert, when pretending to respond, that an application of the CCC to labor economics was my idea alone. So I used to demonstrate that this was false by quoting from the literature. As far as I can see, mainstream economists are still mostly trained into ignorance.

P. Garegnani:

"The idea that demand and supply for factors of production determine distribution has become so deeply ingrained in economic thought that it is almost viewed as an immediate reflection of facts, and not as the result of an elaborate theory. For the same reason, it is easily forgotten how comparatively recent that theory is. In the first systematic analysis of value and distribution by the English classical economists up to Ricardo, we would look in vain for the conception that demand and supply for labour and 'capital' achieve 'equilibrium' as the proportions in which those 'factors' are employed in the economy change with the wage and rate of profits. Thus, Ricardo saw no inconsistency between free competition and unemployment of labour. In his view lower wages could eliminate unemployment only by decreasing the growth of population or by favouring accumulation...

...Outputs can influence relative prices ... by affecting the relative scarcity of labour and capital, and thus the wage and rate of interest, given the supply of the two factors and the state of technical knowledge. This link between prices and outputs is one and the same thing as the explanation of distribution by demand and supply of factors of production: and it becomes untenable once that explanation is abandoned.

Thus, the separation of the pure theory of value from the study of the circumstances governing changes in the outputs of commodities, does not seem to meet any essential difficulty. On the contrary, it may open the way for a more satisfactory treatment of the relations between outputs and the technical conditions of production. Moreover, by freeing the theory of value from the assumption of consumers' tastes given from outside the economic system, this separation may favour a better understanding of consumption, and its dependence on the rest of the system.

With this, the theory of value will lose the all-embracing quality it assumed with the marginal method. But what will be lost in scope will certainly be gained in consistency and, we may hope, in fruitfulness." -- P. Garegnani, RES, 1970.

Harvey Gram:

"The intractable problems created by the effort to extend into the unobservable future the terrain over which the forces of supply and demand hold sway are somehow set aside as questions that will ultimately yield to a more sophisticated analysis. Meanwhile, the existence of an alternative framework of thought based on a revival of classical theory is denied. Certainly the critics of neoclassical theory committed a great heresy during the capital theory debate by proving false the analytical basis for the principle of substitution in so far as it affects the demand for capital and labour. Those who would defend neoclassical theory against any attack on its logical structure fail to see the significance of this result. This is because they have given up any causal claims for general equilibrium theory..., thus abandoning the traditional notion of equilibrium as a centre of gravity relative to which prices and quantities fluctuate. The revival of interest in classical theory is, in part, a revival of interest in this old-fashioned idea. It is also a revival of interest in a broadly based theory that does not presume to find the essence of all market phenomena in terms of the single principle of substitution." -- Harvey Gram, 1990.

Heinz Kurz and Neri Salvadori

"However, as was argued in Section 3 with regard to 'perversely' shaped, that is, upward sloping, factor-demand functions, this possibility would question the validity of the entire economic analysis in terms of demand and supply." -- H. D. Kurz and N. Salvadori, Theory of Production: A Long Period Analysis, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Heinrich Bortis:

"...Specifically, it must be shown that under ideal conditions, i.e. perfect competition and absence of disturbing elements like uncertainty and money, one or more markets do not function properly so that, even in the long run, no tendency towards full employment exists: the problem is not about possible market failures, but about principles.

This task has been accomplished by the capital-theory debate, the main economic implications of which are set out in Garegnani (1970), Kurz (1985) and Pasinetti (1974, pp. 132-42; 1977, pp. 169-77); a comprehensive and easily understandable presentation of the crucial issues is Harcourt (1972).

...As a consequence, no regular (downward-sloping) associations between profit rates, on the one hand, and capital and output per worker and the capital-output ratio, on the other hand, exist. These relationships are, in fact, totally irregular. Since the 'capital market' does not function in the neoclassical sense and since factor markets are supposed to be interrelated, regular long-period relationships between 'factor prices' and 'factor quantities' cannot exist in general, i.e. there are no 'factor markets' at all if the long run is considered. This is the main result of the capital-theory debate...

...The fact that there are no regular relationships between 'factor prices' and 'factor quantities' is extremely damaging for equilibrium theory: the market cannot produce a tendency towards some postulated long-period equilibrium to solve the central economic problems, i.e. value, distribution and employment....

...These references to the history of the capital-theoretic discussion show that it is a discussion about fundamentals. The basic question is whether there are regular relationships between 'factor prices' and 'factor quantities' or not, i.e. normally functioning factor markets. Examining this question seriously will inevitably shape an economist's vision in a decisive way. The capital-theoretic debate is a theoretic watershed dividing two different views of looking at socioeconomic phenomena, i.e. neoclassical equilibrium theory which emphasizes behavior and classical-Keynesian political economy which starts from the functioning of the socioeconomic system, the question being which approach is more appropriate to tackle fundamental socioeconomic problems, such as value, distribution and employment. Therefore, as Geoffrey Harcourt was one of the first to perceive, the Cambridge controversies are 'not merely about the measurement of capital...but about the scientific status of neoclassical (equilibrium) theory' (Dixon 1988, pp. 251-2)...." -- Heinrich Bortis, Institutions, Behavior and Economic Theory: A Contribution to Classical-Keynesian Political Economy, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Syed Ahmad:

"The issue was settled in favour of Cambridge University when Samuelson wrote (1976) that wherever 'informed economic theory is taught', the 'paradoxes' are accepted, and their consequences for the concept of capital known. It is another matter that, on the basis of this criterion, many seats of learning in North America, as perhaps also elsewhere, do not teach informed economic theory." -- Syed Ahmad (1998)

Edward Nell:

"After Sraffa's book in 1960 the next decades saw major battles in the journals, battles which resulted in conclusions widely held today: to wit, the technical errors are conceded, but their significance is contested. This has a practical meaning: open any major journal at random today, and there will be marginal products... - with no hint that any technical error is involved. The critique is simply ignored. It can't be answered, but it is held to be unimportant." -- Edward Nell (1998)

Ian Steedman:

"Both classical and marginalist economists provided accounts of the long-period (uniform rate of profit) theory of value and distribution, but whereas a classical economist could take the real wage as a datum for the purpose of such analysis (whatever the implicit 'background' theory of wages might be), the marginalist economist had to 'close the system' in some other manner. In effect, since 'resource supplies' were often taken as given, this meant that 'the supply of capital' had to be taken as given, in one way or another. Just how the given supply of capital was to be represented was an issue that led to considerable heterogenity amongst even those marginalist economists who shared the long-period method of analysis with the classical economists and with each other. That heterogenity cannot be entered into here (see Kurz and Salvadori, 1995: 427-43) but it is now widely recognized that each version of such traditional long-period marginalist theory of value and distribution encountered insoluble problems (ibid.: 443-48)." -- Ian Steedman (1998)

Michael Mandler:

"But, as economic theory has learned since the 1930s, the pattern of activities adopted in the face of long-run factor-price changes can be complicated and counterintuitive. Consequently, the long-run demand for factors can be badly behaved functions of factor prices... The principle of variation works as an argument for long-run determinancy insofar as the set of zero-profit activities shift in response to factor price changes; it is not necessary that newly adopted activities use cheaper factors more intensively..." -- Michael Mandler (1999)

Luigi L. Pasinetti:

"But something even more interesting and intriguing has happened. After only a few years, even the admissions initially made no longer found any mention... The typical economics student entering university from the 1980s onwards has heard nothing of the re-switching difficulties involved in the neoclassical theory of capital and income distribution." -- Luigi L. Pasinetti (200?).

James Galbraith:

"The critique of Robinson and Sraffa is more than forty years old. Yet for psychological and political reasons, rather than for logical and mathematical ones, the capital critique has not penetrated mainstream economics. It likely never will. Today only a handful of economists seem aware of it... Ostensible liberals are not exempt; their arguments for higher public infrastructure investment (based on its alleged marginal productivity) are precisely of this type, as are arguments for increased investment in education based on the higher marginal productivity of human skill." -- James Galbraith (2001).

Steve Keen:

"Of course, the average economist would never tell you that economic theory has suffered such a devasting blow. This is because the average YOUNG economist doesn't even know that this intellectual bout took place - the concepts in this debate don't make it onto the curriculum for either undergraduate or postgraduate students. Older economists cannot avoid some knowledge of the war, but they erroneously believe that their camp won, or they dismiss the issue completely.

Today economic theory continues to use exactly the same concepts which Sraffa's critique showed to be completely invalid...

There is no better sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of economics than this." -- Steve Keen (2001)

Neri Salvadori:

"Reswitching debate is relevant for...theories which determine income distribution on the basis of demand and supply of all factors including labour and 'capital'."

Fabio Petri:

"The arguments necessary to surmount these confusions started becoming available in English only with Garegnani (1976), which was quickly followed by a number of other papers and books among which Petri (1978, 1991, 1998, 1999), Garegnani (1978-9, 1989, 1990, 2000), Eatwell (1979, 1982), Milgate (1979, 1982), Eatwell and Milgate (1983), Schefold (1985, 1997), Kurz (1987). This wave of contributions finally started clarifying the difference between long-period and neo-Walrasian versions of the marginalist/neoclassical approach, as well as the different roles of the conception of capital as a single factor, roles some of which were argued to be present even in the neo-Walrasian versions... The neoclassical reaction was striking: no reply at all. Some of the neoclassical assessments of the Cambridge controversies (e.g. Blaug, 1974; Stiglitz, 1974; Bliss, 1975b) antedate the writings of this second critical wave, but other ones do not (e.g. Dougherty, 1980; Burmeister, 1980, 1991; Hahn, 1982) and yet contain no reference to any of the post-1975 critical writings just mentioned. One possible interpretation ... is that no reply came forth because a satisfactory reply was not easy to find. Be that as it may, the fact is that up to now (end 2002) none of the post-1975 critical writings just remembered is mentioned in any of the writings of Hahn or Solow or F. M. Fisher or Burmeister even when they return on the themes of the Cambridge controversy. No wonder that considerable misunderstandings persist, which is what prompted me to write the present essay." -- Fabio Petri

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