Paul A. Baran

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Paul Alexander Baran
Economist Paul A. Baran as he appeared in the late 1950s.
Born 25 August 1909
Mykolaiv,[1] Kherson Governorate, Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine)
Died 26 March 1964(1964-03-26) (aged 54)
Palo Alto, California, USA
Nationality American
Field Macroeconomics
School or tradition
Neo-Marxian economics
Influences Karl Marx, Michał Kalecki, Josef Steindl, John Kenneth Galbraith
Influenced Immanuel Wallerstein, Richard D. Wolff

Paul Alexander Baran (/ˈbærən/; 25 August 1909 – 26 March 1964) was an American Marxist economist. In 1951 Baran was promoted to full professor at Stanford University and Baran was the only tenured Marxian economist in the United States until his death in 1964. Baran wrote The Political Economy of Growth in 1957 and co-authored Monopoly Capital with Paul Sweezy.[2]

Life and work

Baran was born in Imperial Russia. His father, a Menshevik, left Russia for Vilna (then Poland) in 1917. From Vilna the Baran family moved to Berlin, and then, in 1915 back to Moscow, but Paul stayed in Germany to finish his secondary school. In 1926 he attended the Plekhanov Institute in Moscow. He left again for Germany in 1928 accepting an appointment as an assistant on agricultural research with his advisor, Dr. Friedrich Pollock. Baran remained in Germany associated with the Frankfurt School Institute for Social Research. He received the Diplom-Volkswirt (graduate degree in political economy, equivalent to a master's degree) in 1931 from the Schlesische Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Breslau. He next wrote a dissertation under Emile Lederer on economic planning, and received his PhD from the University of Berlin in 1933. During these years in Germany, he met Rudolf Hilferding, author of Finance Capital and wrote under the pen name of Alexander Gabriel for the German Social Democratic Party journal "Die Gesellschaft."

After the Nazi regime took power, Baran fled to Paris and then back to the USSR, and then to Vilna, (then in Poland). With the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and just before the Nazi invasion of Poland he emigrated to the US, where he enrolled at Harvard and received a master's degree. Short of funds, he left the PhD program and worked for the Brookings Institution and then for the Office of Price Administration and then the Office of Strategic Services. He worked under John Kenneth Galbraith at the Strategic Bombing Survey traveling to post-war Germany and Japan. Baran then worked for the United States Department of Commerce and lectured at George Washington University. He then worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before resigning to join academia.

He married Elena Djatschenko, had a son Nicholas but soon divorced.[3] Baran had his academic career in the United States, teaching at Stanford University from 1949.[2] From 1949, he was an active participant in the formulation of editorial ideas and opinions in Monthly Review magazine edited by Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman. Baran visited Cuba in 1960 along with Sweezy and Huberman, and was greatly inspired. In 1962 he revisited Moscow, Iran, and Yugoslavia. In his last years he worked on Monopoly Capital with Sweezy. He died before it was completed by Sweezy. Baran died from a heart attack in 1964.[2] He is sometimes associated with the Neo-Marxian school of thought.

Baran introduced the concept of "economic surplus" to deal with novel complexities raised by the dominance of monopoly capital. With Paul Sweezy, Baran elaborated the importance of this innovation, its consistency with Marx's labor concept of value, and supplementary relation to Marx's category of surplus value.[4]

According to Baran's categories, "Actual economic surplus" is "the difference between society's actual current output and its actual current consumption," and hence is equal to current savings or accumulation. Potential economic surplus," in contrast, is "the difference between that output that could be produced in a given natural and technical environment with the help of employable productive resources, and what might be regarded as essential consumption." Baran also introduced the concept of "planned surplus"—a category that could only be operationalized in a rationally planned socialist society. This was defined as "the difference between society's 'optimum' output available in a historically given natural and technological environment under conditions of planned 'optimal' utilization of all available productive resources, and some chosen 'optimal' volume of consumption."[5]

Baran used the surplus concept to analyze underdeveloped economies (or what are now more optimistically called "developing economies") in his The Political Economy of Growth. Baran with Paul M. Sweezy applied the surplus concept to the contemporary US economy in Monopoly Capital.

Selected bibliography

  • Baran, Paul A. (1952), The Political Economy of Underdevelopment, "Manchester School"
  • Baran, Paul A. (1957), The Political Economy of Growth Monthly Review Press, New York. Review extract.
  • Baran, Paul A. (1959), "Reflections on underconsumption", in Abramovitz, Moses; et al. (eds.), The allocation of economic resources: essays in honor of Bernard Francis Haley, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, OCLC 490147128.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> ISBN 9780804705684.
  • Baran, Paul A. (1960), Marxism and Psychoanalysis [pamphlet] Monthly Review Press
  • Baran, Paul A. (1961), The Commitment of the Intellectual, [pamphlet] Monthly Review Press
  • Baran, Paul A. (1961), Reflections on the Cuban Revolution, [pamphlet] Monthly Review Press
  • Baran, Paul A.; Sweezy, Paul (1966), Monopoly Capital: An essay on the American economic and social order, Monthly Review Press, New York
  • Baran, Paul A. (1970), The Longer View: Essays toward a critique of political economy
  • Baran, Paul A. (1975), The Political Economy of Neo-Colonialism


  1. Reder, Melvin W; Tarshis, Lorie; Smith, Thomas C. "Memorial Resolution: Paul A Baran" (PDF). Stanford Historical Society. Retrieved 2 May 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Robert W. McChesney. The Monthly Review Story: 1949–1984 Monthly Review Foundation.
  3. Paul Sweezy, "Paul Baran: A Memoir" in Sweezy and Leo Huberman, eds, (1965); Paul A. Baran (1910–1964): A Collective Portrait, Monthly Review Press, New York.
  4. Baran, P.A. & Sweezy, P.M. (2012). "Some Theoretical Implications". Monthly Review. 64 (3).
  5. Baran, Paul A. (1957). The Political Economy of Growth. New York: Monthly Review Press. pp. 22–23, 41–42.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Bellod Redondo, J. F. (2008); "Monopolio e Irracionalidad: Microfundamentos de la Teoría Baran – Sweezy"; revista Principios – Estudios de Economía Política, pp. 65–84, nº 10, Fundación Sistema, Madrid.
  • Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman, eds, (1965); Paul A. Baran (1910–1964): A Collective Portrait, Monthly Review Press, New York.

External links