Piero Sraffa

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Piero Sraffa (August 5, 1898 – September 3, 1983) was an influential Italian economist whose book Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities is taken as founding the Neo-Ricardian school of Economics.


Early life

He was born in Turin, Italy, to a wealthy Italian Jewish family, to Angelo and Irma Sraffa.[1] His father was a Professor in commercial law. Sraffa studied in his town and graduated at the local university with a work on inflation in Italy during and after World War I. Notably, his tutor was Luigi Einaudi, one of the most important Italian economists and later a president of the Italian Republic.

From 1921 to 1922 he studied in London at the London School of Economics. In 1922 he was appointed as Director of the provincial labour department in Milan, then as Professor in Political economy first in Perugia, and later in Cagliari, Sardinia. In Turin he had met Antonio Gramsci (the most important leader of Italian Communist Party). They became close friends, partly due to their shared ideological views. He also was already in contact with Filippo Turati, perhaps the most important leader of Italian Socialist Party, whom he allegedly met and frequently visited in Rapallo, where his family had a holiday villa.

In 1925, he wrote about returns to scale and perfect competition, underlining some doubtful points of Alfred Marshall's theory of the firm. This was amended for British readers and published in 1926 as The Laws of Returns under Competitive Conditions.

Major works

In 1927, his as yet undiscussed theory of value[2], but also his - in fascist Italy - risky political ideas and his compromising friendship with Gramsci (who had already been imprisoned by the fascists —notably, Sraffa had brought him the materials, literally pens and paper, with which Gramsci would write his Prison Notebooks), brought John Maynard Keynes to prudentially invite Sraffa to the University of Cambridge, where he was initially assigned a lectureship. That Sraffa hated lecturing is normally explained by his shyness. But perhaps he declined teaching an economic theory he found wanting. So he stopped collaborating in the making of Keynes' General Theory as Keynes used a subjective propensity to consume. After a few years, Keynes created ex novo for him the charge of Marshall Librarian. Sraffa joined the so-called "cafeteria group", together with Frank P. Ramsey and Ludwig Wittgenstein, a sort of informal club that discussed Keynes's theory of probability and Friedrich Hayek's theory on business cycles. In 1939 he was elected to a Fellowship at Trinity College.[3]

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