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Edited by Mark Setterfield
Chapter 12: The Classical-Marxian Evolutionary Model of Technical Change: Application to Historical Tendencies
Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy Introduction Central to the classical and Marxian analyses of technical change is the idea that capitalists choose among competing techniques of production, depending on their comparative profitability. A new technique is implemented if it increases the profit rate of the firm. This idea is common to Ricardo and Marx. It is also part of Sraffa’s framework.1 Although capitalists do not “maximize” their profit rate on the basis of a given production function, as within neoclassical models, they seek to obtain the best possible profit rate by choosing the most appropriate technology. The wage rate is an important parameter in this selection (see the reference to Marx below, in the description of section 3). This very simple principle should not be mistaken for a theory of technical change or innovation in general. Why does a firm or an economy generate new and better performing techniques whereas others do not? What determines the pattern of innovation? Why does technical change display favorable features in some periods, and not in others, and so on? All these issues relate to major aspects of the analysis of technical change. The choice of the most profitable techniques of production per se is in no way sufficient to answer these questions. Nonetheless, many properties of technical change can be derived from the mere principle of the selection of the most profitable techniques, provided that it is embedded within an appropriate framework of analysis. It is the purpose of this...
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