A tribute to Domenico Mario Nuti. By Júlio Marques Mota

A simple tribute to a friend of mine who died last week.



By Júlio Marques Mota

Coimbra, December 25th, 2020



To our readers less familiar with the Portuguese language, here we leave the English version of Júlio Mota’s tribute to Domenico Mario Nuti.




A friend of mine died three days ago, a world-renowned economist, Domenico Mario Nuti. Should I remember him as an economist, or as a friend or both? As an economist I must remember him as a heterodox economist from the Keynesian family, someone among Marx, Keynes, Kalecky, as an expert on socialist economies in transition, or as I first met him, as someone involved in the questions of capital theory with the putty-clay models at the time of the Cambridge debate, or as I myself recently assumed him, as an expert on European issues, with whom he animated much of our blog, A Viagem dos Argonautas. I must remember him in these two categories, as a great economist or as a friend, or simply as a friend, with a friendship made after he was invited to a great colloquium about Europe at the Faculty of Economics of Coimbra, which led to the publication of the book edited by Coimbra Editora, PERSPECTIVAS PARA UMA OUTRA ZONA EURO, where a text of him is published.

I must remember him for a bit of all this, that’s for sure, but above all I must remember him in terms of a friendship that has been created over the years, I must remember him from the texts that I have published, from the questions that we discussed around them, but also from personal feelings and intimacies that have been established over the years.

I must say that the first contact I had with the name Nuti was an article of him when, as a teacher and I as a 3rd year student at the ISEG, we were going around Neorricardian theory. From those times, from the theoretical themes of that time, we were both already very far away, although I think he would be more distanced today than I am. In his long text also published in the blog A Viagem dos Argonautas in Portuguese, Rise and fall of Socialism followed by Rise, fall and future of Socialism, this long distance created in relation to the theory of labour value, and so on also to Marx, is much longer than mine, which through the way of Sraffa, or my reading of Sraffa, has never ceased to be connected to Marx and to the theory of labour value, although in an unorthodox way. As was also the heretic Arghiri Emannuel, for example. In fact, in this long work of his, Nuti reduces Marx to the idea of exploitation, but for which he considers that the theory of value is not necessary. A retreat, I believe, from Sraffa, while I have always considered since that time that the Sraffa model ultimately had labour as a unit of measurement, since the standard commodity is built on the basis of the total amount of labour used in what is considered the configuration of equations of the productive system that is theoretically considered the effective system, which is expressed by the assumption that the value of the net product of the standard system is equal to the amount of labour of the effective system. Labour is thus assumed to be the only source of value and the relationship of the distribution between social classes, labour and capital, is given by the linear relationship between wages and profits for each level of net output considered: r= R (1-W), where R represents the national net output per unit of capital used in the productive system [1]. The theory of labour value is thus recovered and class conflict is thus elegantly represented by this linear relationship. The denim of the Capital is lost and all its message is recovered! [2] A little like what Lefebvre said about the Church and Christ more or less the following: we can forget the Church (here, orthodox, fundamentalist Marxism) but never Christ’s message (here, Marx’s basic idea, the exploitation of labour, the class struggle).

Later, at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Coimbra, I came across his articles around Kalecky as well as his work on the transition of socialist economies, with Alec Nove. And only much later, when he was in Coimbra, my connections with Nuti have become mainly around the construction (perhaps, on the contrary, deconstruction) of the Economic Union. From then on it was years of living together at a distance in which we dealt with what Nuti wrote, and in which we published most of his texts since then. In this work we asked questions about what he wrote and sometimes we discussed what was the best meaning for the translation of some expressions he used in English or in Italian. Those were years when I learned a lot in terms of economics and of life as well…

In this context, I followed closely the elaboration of his text Rise and fall of Socialism in its Italian version, especially after his own first revision of the text: Then I also followed the text translation to English since it took a long time to translate the Italian version to Portuguese, and this happened when Nuti also started to revise the English version and made it available to me for the purpose of facilitating the translation from the Italian. I even believe that the final English version also expresses that kind of discussion as I translated his text into Portuguese. And here a curious situation arose. When you reach the end of the article you get a strange feeling, as if you had read a book that is missing a chapter, the final chapter. I told him that when I reached the end of the text Rise and fall of Socialism, I felt like a bitter taste in my mouth, as if the text missed the final chapter, as if we ourselves needed to turn the page, but there was no next page! And his answer was that if he was healthy and had time he would write it. And so he did. Hence the title Rise, Fall and Future of Socialism which followed the Rise and Fall of Socialism.

Around this rather personal text, let me reproduce some of the correspondence that was exchanged at the time with Domenico Mario Nuti:

On the 3rd July 2018 I wrote:

“Frankly, I continue to affirm and more and more firmly that THE RISE AND FALL OF SOCIALISM is a remarkable work.

For the part that touches me I see here authors that I read, I do not know how or in what language, possibly mostly in French because at the time I hardly knew English, in your extensive bibliography and with regard to the issues of the economy and Socialism in the east of Europe. I remember here: Feldman, Mahalanobis, Kaldor, Domar, Kalecky, Oskar Lange, Preobajenski, Spulber, Kornai, Nove. Remeber also Novozilov, Nenchinov etc.

I tell you a little story here: in my student days, (1972) I was invited by a conservative and emblematic professor, Alfredo de Sousa, to work with him for a year in order to find correspondence between the language Structuralist in economics and Marxist language. He promised to arrange me later, and I have no doubt that he was being strongly sincere, a six-month study fellowship in Poland, because of Oskar Lange’s school, six months in Budapest because of the school of Kornai and after then a year in Cambridge, because of the school Neorricardiana, that is to say, because Sraffa.

I simply did not know English sufficiently to ensure a good academic result with this stay in three of the most important “capitals” of knowledge and for two years. So I refused. Additionally personal conditions of strong constraints reinforced my decision: I am the son of poor peasants, my father had died and my mother lived alone. Catholic, in the loneliness of a poor peasant women living alone, she refused to have television at home because television was to see accompanied-television was in the first years of its launch at the village- and spent the nights praying for the son, for many years a worker in manufacture industry in the Lisbon area. So, my mother needed frequent visits from me to our village, which was incompatible with being abroad for a long time.

So, you can understand my emotion by translating this extraordinary work. Page after page from your text I remember my lectures of long time ago, 40 years ago. Curious, sincerely.

To conclude, I suggest, in view of your distance from Marx’s theory of value and reproduction schemes, the reading of the book of Arghiri Emmanuel Les profits et les crises (Maspero) [who was also distant from Marx]. Surely you will not give your work for lost.“

His reply on the 4th July said:

“Thanks also for sharing your personal recollections and reaction to my text. I was very fortunate in being able to see Poland immediately after graduation, learn Polish and be thought by Lange and Kalecki (and Brus, and Laski, and other prominent economists), then spend fifteen years at Cambridge with so many wonderful teachers. Plus additional opportunities to see directly the reform and transition of the socialist system, the failure of perverted social democracy. I hope I last long enough to complete my text adding the section on the future of social democracy.

By the way, I regret to say that I am skeptical about Emmanuel’s unequal exchange, for reasons that I will try and address in another mail soon.”

And on the 5th July I replied:

“I have spoken about Emmanuel but only about the book Les profits et Les Crises. It is remarkable the chapter about the reproduction schemes. Note that it was written in 197x. I don’t remember exactly the year. In my list of names was also Brody and Kantorovitch, principally Kantorovitch, important to me with the book Calcul economique published by Dunod.”


Times have passed on this important text. Then, in mid 2019 I was surprised by an email from him telling me that we were both lucky, he had discovered two bottles of Xerês wine from a batch of 6 he had bought in 1975 when he was in Cambridge and which had been placed on the market at the coronation of King Edward VI in 1937. He had two left, one for his family and one for me. The email was emotionally beautiful, I will not put it here. I answered it in the return of the mail. In my reply I said the following:

“It is true that I must thank you for the bottle send to me that is jealously guarded to be drunk at a convenient time and I tell you that given the importance that the bottle has assumed for me, choosing that date will not be easy. But while I must thank you for the bottle, no less important or perhaps even more important, I must thank you for your poetic text that was sent to me. As they say in Portugal, thank you a thousand times. 

In that regard, and at the symbolic level, let me tell you what a waitress of the Café that I usually attend, who has not had an easy life economically speaking, said to me two days ago, when she thanked me because I send a letter of congratulations to her daughter who had managed to get into university. Basically I have told to the daughter that never we have a text without context, and that we are always what are our circumstances of life, and so, in their circumstances are their work and the great sacrifices of her mother to permit the success reached by the daughter. A detail to not forget, was my suggestion.

Basically it was the summary of my letter to the girl. Her mother took the telephone and told me: “because of your letter, I was crying and tears ran down my eyes”. And she concluded: “when tenderness comes into our lives, as that is the case now, we just have to be grateful to life.”

This was told me by someone who has no more than the basic education – nine years of schooling! This is the poetry of the world expressed to me by someone to whom the life has not been nothing poetry, on the contrary, the life in this field has been very bitter to her.

I have, perhaps, written a poetic letter for her daughter, which made the mother cry of emotion, it was also from you a letter for me loaded with all the affection that can be expressed in this world to a friend and there is no other world. In face at your text I felt like the waitress of the café: “When tenderness comes into our lives, we just have to be grateful to life.” And frankly, I am very grateful to you for your text”.

To this text Nuti replied:

“Your warm and affectionate letter has had precisely the same effect on me that you describe so lucidly. Given the selfish and cruel world in which we now live I believe we are very fortunate to experience such happy feelings. Our reciprocal sincere and deep thanks are appropriate. Take care and look after yourself and keep spreading those emotions around you.”


What I leave you here is a short summary of a past history between myself and one of the most brilliant economists of the 20th century I have known, the short history of a friendship made up of ideas that were then superimposed on the feelings of each of our personal lives. A story that I believe makes clear the way of being in the life of Domenico Mario Nuti, a man always attentive to the great social, economic and political movements, a Man always demanding with those who have the power, as his many articles on Europe and others show, but also always understandably attentive to the needs of those whom the system ejected to the margins of the road of life, a Man no less attentive to the unique world around us, to each one of us, masterfully expressed by the statement of the coffee waitress when she says to me touchingly: “when tenderness comes into our lives, as that  is the case now, we just have to be grateful to life “, an expression that seems more like a stanza from another possible version of the song Gracias à la vida sung by Violeta Parra or Mercedes Sosa, such is the strength that emanates from it, especially when spoken by someone who still finds reason to thank life for the interstices of joy and rest that it still allows. An expression that Nuti also assumes as something that must be inherent to the human condition: fraternity as a practice, as a central element in the life of each one of us. Curiously, two worlds that are unknown to each other, his and the maid’s, who daily serves me coffee, two worlds that have nothing in common, neither culturally nor economically, except in something very strong that, in my opinion, gives meaning to life and that is transversal to all classes when one has by choice or education the sense of humanity, the sense of the other, the sense of fraternity, as a way of life.

One day, when Nuti was on holiday in Tuscany, I believe in 2017, he told me that he was there living in a world where the fraternity felt and lived was coming closer to the world that he and I so much desired. I found this expression very happy. At the same time, with him in Tuscany, I spoke to him about a class divide, often marked by the types of consumption, about a dinner I had with a friend of mine who was a construction worker, to which he responded by telling me more or less the following: you are lucky to have friends like these and they are lucky to have friends like you. Basically, fraternity as the centre of the relationship between people.

If I learned a lot from Nuti in terms of economics, I also learned a lot in terms of how to be in life. An example to follow is the message that this unique story aims to illustrate.




[1] In very technical terms we would say that the vector product of vector q (the multipliers for the construction of the standard measure) of the productive system by vector Li (vector of the quantities of work used by each sector in the effective system) is equal to the value L, the total amount of work available to the company and which is considered equal to the unit, equal to the net product, also considered by Sraffa as equal to the unit. The system cannot have two numerical values and therefore Sraffa is considering L=1=Y, where Y represents the net product, equal in value to the work used in the effective system, from which the standard system is built. The concept of work as a source of value and that of exploitation are thus present in the Sraffa model, via the equivalence of the two standardisations!

Curiously, during the elaboration of a small work on Sraffa presented by Joaquim Feio (FEUC) and myself (FEUC) at the Gramsci Institute and in the discussions between us about the text we were writing, besides the conclusion mentioned about the two numerical values being only different expressions of the same thing, we both came to the conclusion that the book The production of merchandises through merchandises was for Economic Science as a very rare diamond was for a goldsmith: beautiful, sparkling on all its sides but with varied reflections, all depending on the face we had turned to us. Today, by Gattei we know that this opinion does not differ from that of Sraffa himself when he tells Aurelio Macchioro in 1960 that “everyone was free to interpret Production of Merchandises in his own way”.


[2] By mere chance, in June of this year, I read an article by Gattei where he refers to a note found by Riccardo Bellofiore in the archives of Sraffa made available in 1995 where it talks about “production of commodities by means of commodities and labour” against the title given by Sraffa himself, “production of commodities by means of commodities” A huge difference between the two titles! The first presupposes Marxian acceptance of the theory of value while the second objectively allows its rejection. But it was this second title (without reference to labour) that came to the public. For this, Gattei gives the following explanation:

“But one cannot blame him for this, [for this hidden acceptance of the value-labour theory] since the time he lived had been a time of tyrannies (Nazi-fascism, Stalinism, McCarthyism – not to be forgotten, not even the last one in Britain that produced the scandal of those “Cambridge spies” in 1951, by students, who had been initiated into Marxism in the communist university cell by Maurice Dobb, Sraffa’s closest companion, and who had then, in the middle of the “cold war”, fled to the USSR so as not to be arrested as a secret agent of the KGB). It is obvious that under these conditions for a Jew+Communist+Expatriate, as Sraffa was, it was more than opportune to proceed in disguise, and also in the academic field if still in 1960 a colleague of him (perhaps Dennis Robertson?) with a simple reading of the drafts of the Production of Commodities warned him that that book had to be burned because it was “immoral, neo-Renaissance and neo-Marxist”!







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