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882. Sen and Sraffa: Description as Theory

Working Paper n. 882 - Giugno 2022

Syed Mohib Ali

PhD Student, DEPS, USiena


The article engages with Amartya Sen’s interpretation of Piero Sraffa’s Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (PCMC). Sen has the distinction of highlighting the philosophical and methodological aspects of Sraffa’s work. In this regard, Sen has highlighted the role of counterfactuals in economic theory and the role of value theory in political economy as a matter of ‘social communication’. On these two issues, there is considerable discussion in recent Sraffian scholarship that is concerned with the significance of Sraffa’s critique of marginalist theory and the rehabilitation of classical economics. The article scrutinizes Sen’s interpretation of PCMC and highlights several noteworthy contributions and insights. While being sympathetic to the substantive points of criticism entailed by PCMC, Sen misunderstands Sraffa’s ‘critique of economic theory’ and the reasoning involved in such a critique. A critical reading reveals that Sen’s interpretation of Sraffa is more reflective of his own work on the ‘choice basis of description’ than an appreciation of Sraffa’s theoretical project. Despite the misunderstandings, the article highlights the similarities in vision between Sen’s interpretation of Sraffa and Sraffa’s revival of classical economics. By undertaking such a critical reading, the article raises important issues about method and the scope of economic enquiries