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On Smith's ambiguities on value and wealth


  • Meacci, Ferdinando


Ricardo’s criticisms of Adam Smith on value and wealth have been sometimes rejected and sometimes accepted in the period following the publication of his Principles. By contrast, they have been mostly ignored in the recent revivals of Ricardian economics both in the branch concerned with value and distribution and in the branch devoted to wealth and equilibrium growth. This paper intends to fill the gap between these two branches by revisiting Smith’s link between value and wealth in the light of Ricardo’s criticisms. This is done in two steps. The first step is provided in Part I and deals with Ricardo’s criticisms i) of Say’s and Lauderdale’s criticisms of Smith on this issue, and ii) of Smith’s and Malthus’ arguments on the related issues of rent and of the “annual produce of the land and labour of a country”. The second step is provided in Part II. The aim of this Part is to dissolve Smith’s terminological inaccuracies or contradictions by disentangling them from the analytical foundations of his system of thought. This is done by re-examining Smith’s arguments on value and wealth in the light of two distinctions. One runs between the two points of view –of an individual and of society– which underlie the whole of his system of thought. The other is put forward by Smith himself in a neglected passage of the Wealth and runs between the notions of “work done” and “work to be done”. Both distinctions are then utilized to revisit the principle of exchangeable value as command of labour in the economy as a whole and in the sense of work to be done. The paper is closed by arguing that this principle is needed for supporting the idea of a permanent increase in the natural price of labour (in Smith’s rather than in Ricardo’s sense) in economies exposed to a continuous process of accumulation.

Suggested Citation

  • Meacci, Ferdinando, 2010. "On Smith's ambiguities on value and wealth," MPRA Paper 28866, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:28866

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Peach,Terry, 1993. "Interpreting Ricardo," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521260862, March.
    2. Christian Gehrke & Heinz Kurz, 2001. "Say and Ricardo on value and distribution," The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 8(4), pages 449-486.
    3. Meacci, Ferdinando, 2004. "The competition-of-capitals doctrine and the wage-profit relationship," MPRA Paper 20118, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 2006.
    4. V. W. Bladen, 1975. "Command over Labour: A Study in Misinterpretation," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 8(4), pages 504-519, November.
    5. Lauderdale, James Maitland, 1819. "An Inquiry into The Nature and Origin of Public Wealth and into the Means and Causes of its Increase," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, edition 2, number lauderdale1819, December.
    6. 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, December.
    7. Smith, Adam, 2008. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: A Selected Edition," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199535927 edited by Sutherland, Kathryn.
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    Cited by:

    1. Meacci, Ferdinando, 1998. "Wealth," MPRA Paper 14713, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 15 Apr 2009.
      • Meacci, Ferdinando, 2013. "Wealth," MPRA Paper 55496, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Mar 2014.

    More about this item


    Smith; Ricardo; value; wealth; labour;

    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)
    • B0 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General

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