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Classical Surplus Theory and Heterodox Economics


  • For most helpful comments on an earlier draft the author is most thankful to Jorge Bateira, Luís Francisco Carvalho, William Davies, John Davis, Gary Dymski, Sheila Dow, Joaquim Feio, Geoffrey Harcourt, Stuart Holland, Tony Lawson, Vítor Neves, the participants of the Coimbra Conference on the Revival of Political Economy 2010, and the editor and anonymous referees of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology. The author is also most grateful to Pierangelo Garegnani, literary executor of Piero Sraffa's papers and correspondence, for permission to quote from Sraffa's unpublished papers, and to Jonathan Smith for his help when going through Sraffa's unpublished papers. The references to Sraffa's unpublished writings are those in the catalogue prepared by Jonathan Smith, archivist, at the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge.


It has recently been suggested that heterodox economics can benefit from an engagement with classical surplus theory. However, caution is often recommended due to the ideological concepts that are embedded in classical political economy. This article argues that many of the ideological concepts that are often attributed to classical political economy are actually not part of classical political economy, but rather of a “vulgar” form of political economy, a project that emerged after Ricardo. This vulgar project, often termed as “Ricardian economics,” is often mistakenly taken to be a development of classical political economy, but it is actually a rupture with the classical political economy of Petty, Smith, and Ricardo, as Marx, and later Sraffa, argued. Once this is acknowledged, the relationship between classical political economy and heterodox economics becomes clearer.