Sunday, April 28, 2024

The world according to Garegnani


    I have not thought of this until I had lunch with Anwar Shaikh today. I have personally known Anwar for at least ten years. But only today it struck me that I was meeting a hero of my early intellectual life, although the difference in age between Anwar and me is not that great. But he was my hero while I was a nobody.

    In the early 1980s, thanks to my mentor Branko Horvat, we had a very good group of neo-Ricardian economists in Belgrade who used to meet about once a month, present papers and discuss them. It was a pan-Yugoslav group with meetings alternating between Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana. It was carefully organized, with presentations, assigned discussants, and commentators. Everything was very friendly, collegial and non-competitive. We would discuss and disagree and then go to a nice restaurant.  The literature we studied was entirely Marxist and Staffian. We read many neo-Ricardian/neo-Marxist writers but among all of them, for some reason (perhaps because of clarity of his writing), I liked Anwar Shaikh the most. This is what I recalled today.

    The smartest member of our small group of neo-Ricardians eventually killed himself. I remember getting together with him for dinners tete-a-tete that would last for hours. Then we would move to his very comfortable and large apartment in downtown Belgrade where he would tell me at length how Garegnani’s equation (6) in his 1972 paper was wrong; how mathematically it did not make sense. He would get a piece of paper, and write down the correct derivation. He was not a fake. He knew mathematics extremely well, but could not write quickly and easily. It would take him months and even years to write a couple of pages; discussing a single draft of his paper, we must have spent five or six dinners, drank ten bottles of wine, and  met at one or two months intervals, where each time I would learn that he had advanced by one paragraph in his earth-shattering Sraffian paper. I think that eventually, perhaps ten years later, a couple of his papers were published. But they give just a pale reflection of the brilliance of the man.

    Neo-Ricardians in Serbia existed in the world that had no relationship with  anything around them. They discussed capitalist relations of production, while we had socialist. They focused on the π/w relationship while profit was an unmentionable category. They spoke of wage bargaining while the state decided on salaries. So theirs was the world of equations, differential calculus, and logical rules that could as well have been the world of astronomy as the world of a social science.

    One May 1 (that is, accidentally, on the holiday day), I had a lunch with several friends, and after the lunch ended, I went out in search of a taxi to go back home. It was raining. I ran into one of my socialist, and this case neo-Keynesian, professors. She was also in search of a taxi. In those days, in Belgrade, there were two taxi companies: a private one, and a state one. We found a private taxi company car. But she refused to get into it. She wanted to be driven by a state-owned company and a worker who was neither a petty-bourgeois nor a hired laborer. The problem was that we could not find one such. Finally, one state-owned taxi appeared but the driver was unwilling to stop and take us (most likely he was driving home to rest). My professor however hit the roof of his car with her umbrella and the taxi stopped.

    So the two of us shared the ride, and I insisted that I should pay. She not only refused but pronounced the sentence that I have said a few times since: “I will never let my student pay for me”.  

    During the ride she told me that she was just completing the book that formally proved the superiority of the socialist mode of production and the forthcoming end of capitalism. I thought it was strange that we had to beat the socialist taxi driver with an umbrella to drive us home but said nothing.

    Like neoclassical economists in the West who lived in a made-up world of their own, we lived in ours. With correct equations and beating taxi drivers to pick us up.  

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