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Comparative Advantage and the Labor Theory of Value


  • Jorge Morales Meoqui


With the famous numerical example of chapter 7 of the Principles (1817) David Ricardo intended to illustrate first and foremost the new proposition that his labor theory of value does not regulate the price of international transactions when the factors of production are immobile between countries. Unfortunately, later scholars have often omitted this proposition when referring to Ricardo's numerical example. Instead, they have highlighted only the comparative-advantage proposition, although Ricardo considered it as a corollary of the omitted proposition and therefore inextricably linked to it. This inexplicable omission has led to an incomplete understanding of the logical construction of Ricardo's numerical example, as well as to the misinterpretation of the four numbers as unitary labor costs. With an accurate understanding of Ricardo's numerical example and the logical relationship between the two propositions it meant to prove, it is relatively easy to refute the main objections that have been raised against the very same numerical example in the past. Moreover, it reaffirms the sustained relevance of Ricardo's two propositions as important insights for understanding the current process of economic globalization.

Suggested Citation

  • Jorge Morales Meoqui, 2011. "Comparative Advantage and the Labor Theory of Value," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 43(4), pages 743-763, Winter.
  • Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:43:y:2011:i:4:p:743-763

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Aldrich, John, 2004. "The Discovery of Comparative Advantage," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 26(03), pages 379-399, September.
    2. Mill, John Stuart, 1874. "Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, edition 2, number mill1874.
    3. Maneschi, Andrea, 2004. "The true meaning of David Ricardo's four magic numbers," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 433-443, March.
    4. Smith, Adam, 1776. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1776.
    5. William O. Thweatt, 1976. "James Mill and the Early Development of Comparative Advantage," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 8(2), pages 207-234, Summer.
    6. Roy J. Ruffin, 2002. "David Ricardo's Discovery of Comparative Advantage," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 34(4), pages 727-748, Winter.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jorge Morales Meoqui, 2017. "Ricardo's Numerical Example Versus Ricardian Trade Model: a Comparison of Two Distinct Notions of Comparative Advantage," Economic Thought, World Economics Association, vol. 6(1), pages 35-55, March.
    2. Morales Meoqui, Jorge, 2012. "On the distribution of authorship-merits for the comparative-advantage proposition," MPRA Paper 35905, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Jorge Morales Meoqui, 2014. "Reconciling Ricardo's Comparative Advantage with Smith's Productivity Theory," Economic Thought, World Economics Association, vol. 3(2), pages 1-21, September.
    4. Christian Gehrke, 2014. "Ricardo’s Discovery of Comparative Advantage Revisited," Graz Economics Papers 2014-02, University of Graz, Department of Economics.

    More about this item


    David Ricardo; comparative advantage; labor theory of value;

    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • F10 - International Economics - - Trade - - - General


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