Lecture notes: David Ricardo
* A. As you will see, Ricardo is fundamentally a theorist--a
mathematical economist who doesn't happen to know any mathematics
+ 1. His primary interest is not in the details of the real
world, but ...
+ 2. In putting together a logically consistent theory, and ...
+ 3. He is willing to use unrealistic simplification where
* B. His introduction provides a fine example of courtesy and
+ 1. He says admiring things about Smith and Say--both of whose
ideas he is going to demolish various pieces of
+ 2. Concedes the imperfections of what he is doing,
+ 3. Leaves it to some abler man to complete the job.
+ 4. Unfortunately, there weren't any, so we had to wait
another eighty years or so until Marshall et. al., building
on the framework Ricardo had constructed, gave us modern
* A. Use value vs exchange value
+ 1. Use value a necessary condition to have exchange value.
+ 2. Given that, exchange value depends on
o a. Scarcity--goods with fixed supply, value determined
o b. Quantity of labor required to obtain the good. Most
3. Ricardo is going to be discussing only the latter
category--goods that can be produced, and whose exchange
value thus depends on cost of production.
B. Distinction between labor to produce and labor to earn the
money to purchase.
+ 1. In a primitive society, exchangable value is proportional
to labor input (Smith).
+ 2. Generalizing this gives us labor input as the measure of
+ 3. Smith, however, is using the labor cost of buying an input
as his measure of value.
+ 4. The two would be equivalent if wages were always
proportional to output, but they are not.
+ 5. Smith's standard--wages or corn--is itself a variable one.
o a. What does that mean? Variable in terms of what?
o b. Corn varies in the amount of embedded labor.
o c. And wages vary with the cost of food.
6. Suppose the labor cost of producing corn doubles:
o a. Corn contains twice as much embedded labor.
o b. In order for it to exchange for twice as much labor,
the ratio of wages to corn would have to fall in half.
o c. But it cannot, because workers were already near
o d. All of which proves, not that Smith was wrong, but
only that measuring value by embodied labor gives a
different result than measuring it by labor to earn the
money to produce.
7. Ricardo is sneaking up on his rent theory--note "land last
taken into production." The fact that the amount of corn
produced by a given amount of labor varies with the fertility
of the marginal land is going to be key to his analysis.
+ 8. And he, like Smith, is using a "wages determined by
C. Which standard of value is right?
+ 1. Ricardo suggests that if the relative value of commodity A
changes relative to B, we should compare both to C-Z. If A's
relative value has stayed the same with regard to C, D, E
...Z, it seems reasonable to say that it was B that changed.
+ 2. Especially if we observe that the imputs needed to produce
A and C-Z have all stayed the same, but there has been a
change in the inputs needed to produce B.
+ 3. So what Ricardo is proposing is not a definition of value
used to compare how well off people are in different times
and places, but ...
+ 4. One intended to predict relative prices.
+ 5. Which Smith's definition of value makes no claim to do. He
has a price theory, based on cost of production including
labor, but that is a different part of what he is doing from
his definition of value.
+ 6. According to Smith (and Malthus), if the price of gold
drops relative to other things because producing it get
easier, that is a drop in its value, but ...
+ 7. If the price of labor drops relative to other things
because producing it (i.e. growing corn) gets easier, that
means everything else has gone up in value.
+ 8. Ricardo points out an inconsistency in Smith, given that
laborers do not spend all of their income on corn:
o a. Laborer gets one bushel/week when corn is
80s/quarter, 1 1/4 when it falls to 40s.
o b. Consumes 1/2 bushel, exchanges the rest for other
o c. Suppose his remaining 1/2 bushel at the old price
buys him more goods than his remaining 3/4 at the new
(as it will if other prices don't change)
o d. His wage has gone up measured in corn, down measured
in what he can buy with it.
o e. But in Smith's sense, the worker's wage is always of
the same value, by definition--1.
o f. Corn comes in only as a useful approximate measure of
value, not as a definition of value.
o g. And Ricardo has merely pointed out a special case
where the approximation breaks down.
* II. Different qualities of labor.
+ A. Obviously, some workers have more skill, work harder, etc.
+ B. Over time, relative wages reflect that--one is producing
one hour per hour, one two, so to speak (my way of putting
it, not Ricardo's).
+ C. Ricardo is interested in explaining relative prices, so
o 1. Provided that the relative productivity of different
kinds of labor stays roughly the same over time
o 2. (And Smithsays it does.)
o 3. He can ignore it in what he is doing.
* III. Labor applied indirectly as well as directly affects value.
+ A. Even in the primitive state, some capital is used. So the
value of deer and beaver is affected by the labor cost of
producing the weapons to hunt them.
o 1. If one weapon was took much more labor to make than
the other, that would make that animal more valuable.
o 2. Or if they were equally costly to make, but one wore
out much faster.
o 3. What if the weapons belonged to different people than
the ones using them?
# a. Supply and demand for capital and labor would
affect the division between the two groups of
# b. But not the relative prices of the goods?
# c. Is that true? We haven't yet gotten to profit as
payment for time value of capital.
# d. And when we do, it won't be true any more.
# e. But at this point, the cost of using the capital
good is merely the amount of embodied labor used
up--and employers can hire people to make bows just
as cheaply as to hunt deer.
B. In a more advanced society, tracing out the labor used to
produce a final good is more complicated, but the logic of
the problem is still the same.
o 1. As Ricardo claims to show by pointing out that a
reduction in the labor used in one stage of production
would reduce the exchange value of the good, but ...
o 2. That would still be true if, as in Smith, exchange
value depended on a sum of costs, of which labor was
C. Going back to the primitive society, Ricardo sketches an
equilibrium price argument for why relative prices must be
equal to relative amounts of embodied labor.
+ D. Note also that, implicitly, wages and profits move in
opposite directions in this simple model.
+ E. But it is still unclear what the capitalist is
contributing to the process, for which he gets his profit.
+ F. If we had an invariable standard (what does that mean?),
it would show us that changes in exchange value always
reflected changes in labor input.
IV. But the conclusion changes if we allow for fixed capital.
+ A. Once we include fixed capital, now relative prices may be
changed by changes in the wage rate (not obvious--but true).
+ B. We should distinguish between fixed and circulating
o 1. Noting that the latter has varying production
o 2. That the distinction is not a sharp one.
o 3. Since a circulating capital with a long period is
like a fixed capital.
C. If all capital were circulating, and all had the same
production period, then exchangable value would be
proportional to labor input.
o 1. Or, in modern terms, if all goods were produced with
the same labor/capital ratio, then...
o 2. All prices would be proportional to labor input.
o 3. But, of course, under those assumptions labor input
is proportional to capital input, so ...
o 4. All prices are proportional to capital input too!
o 5. Which is not precisely a labor theory of value,
although it looks like one in a bad light.
D. But if that is not the case, then:
o 1. If Barley and Oats are produced with the same K/L
ratio as each other, and so are cotton goods and cloth
o 2. Variations of wages will leave the relative prices of
Barley and Oats the same, leave the relative prices of
cotton goods and cloth the same, but change the relative
price of Barley (and Oats) to Cotton goods (and cloth).
o 3. Ricardo sees the idea of labor capital ratio, but has
no words to explain it in:
# a. Since "capital" is not the amount of capital
going into the production but
# b. Capital years used in production, i.e.
# c. The amount of interest that must be paid on the
capital used to produce a unit of output.
# d. But he recognizes that amount of fixed capital
and slowness of circulation are really the same
4. Example using machinery
# a. One man uses 100 workers for a year to grow
corn, two others use the same labor to make one
# b. Next year, one machine +100 men makes cloth,
ditto makes cotton goods, and the farmer uses his
100 men to grow more corn.
# c. If we looked only at embedded labor, the cloth
in the second year costs200 man years=cotton
goods=corn crop, since the machine in this example
is not wearing out, so none of its embedded labor
must be credited to its output, but ...
# d. The farmer got his capital back after one year,
the other two used both their first and second year
capital in their second year production (and will
use the first and third year capital in the third
year's production, and...), so they have to get
more profit to compensate, so the price of what
they produce must be higher.
# e. He then runs it through with numbers.
@ i. Wages of £50/annum, so £5000 of capital was
employed by each of them; assume a profit rate
@ ii. Corn, at end of the first year, is worth
£5500, second harvest the same.
@ iii.Men with machines have £5500 in the
machine at the end of the first year, must
receive 10% on that plus their second £5000 of
wages, or 10%x£10500=£1050 in profit. Assuming
the machine is infinitely durable (which
Ricardo forgets to mention) their goods must
sell for £6050, even though none of the
machine's embedded labor is being used up--and
continue to sell for that each year
5. So far, this gives us different ratios of exchangable
value to embedded labor, depending on the capital labor
o 6. It also implies that relative prices will change,
technology held constant, as wages change.
# a. Note that Ricardo is considering changes in the
division of output between the worker and the
# b. Since this is a change in wages with technology
# c. So it is just a question of who gets what share
of the output.
7. If wages go up, labor intensive goods rise relative
to capital intensive goods. But...
o 8. This effect is small
# a. Ricardo guesstimates that plausible variations
in the profit rate could not give fluctuation in
relative prices of more than about 6 or 7 percent
# b. From which Stigler gets "the 93% labor theory of
9. But changes in the inputs needed to produce outputs
can result in much larger changes in relative prices.
V. Allowing for fixed capital of variable durability has a similar effect.
+ A. Worked through once for a machine that requires labor
input to keep it up--just like labor used directly in
+ B. And a second time by observing that a machine that wears
out in a year is just like circulating capital with a period
of one year.
o 1. Actually, both Smith and Ricardo routinely ignore the
fact that wages are paid out during the year, not all at
o 2. Possibly, in Smith's case, because the harvest comes
in once a year and must be stored until eaten. So
somebody is paying the interest on that capital until
the workers get it.
C. Consider a machine that lasts only a year, substitutes for
100 men, and costs £5000.
o a. If wages rise, what happens to its price?
o b. It must embody less than £5000 in wages, plus some
interest, and ...
o c. If the rise in wages is balanced by a fall in
interest, its price will stay the same.
o d. And that will happen if it is made with the average
labor/capital ratio (he is getting ahead of himself
o 1. Under primitive conditions, prices are proportional
o 2. With fixed capital etc., ratio of price to labor
input can vary quite a lot.
o 3. And relative prices can change slightly due to
changes in wages and profit, without any change in
o 4. With rising wages lowering the relative price of
capital intensive goods.
VI. We need an invariable standard of value.
+ A. It must always require the same labor input--which real
+ B. But that would still be a perfect measure of value only
for things produced with the same labor/capital ratio as the
+ C. Since the change in relative value of goods with different
K/L ratios due to changes in wages is small, we can (and he
will) ignore that problem.
+ D. And he will write as though money was that invariable
+ E. Note the paradox in Smith's claim that if wages rose all
goods must rise in price. What about the price of the money
in which price is measured?
VII. Changes in price due to changes in the value of money
+ A. Do not change distribution between profit and wages
+ B. But changes with value of money held constant do.
+ C. i.e. changes in wages given that the amount of capital and
labor used to produce a unit of money is unchanged.
+ D. Note that wages are measured here by labor needed to
produce what the worker can buy with them--i.e. they measure
the share of output going to the worker, not his welfare.
Ricardo abandoned that possibility when he scrapped Smith's
version of the labor theory of value.
Chapter II: Rent
* I. We must distinguish rent--the payment for the use of the
original and indestructible powers of the soil, from other
payments miscalled rent.
+ A. Including the profit on the landowner's investments in
improving the land, and ...
+ B. Payment for timber on the land--it would be rent only if
you were paying for the right to grow timber and harvest it,
not just for the right to harvest the timber already there.
+ C. Rent of coal mines or quarries--where, again, you are
removing something permanently.
+ D. Ricardo will use "rent" only in the narrow sense.
II. The development of rent
+ A. If land, like air, were available in unlimited supply, it
would be free.
+ B. It commands rent only because it is not unlimited in
extent and uniform in quality--the best land is all in use.
o 1. When land of the second quality goes into use, there
must be rent on land of the first quality
o 2. And its amount depends on the difference in quality.
o 3. And similarly with the third.
C. More precisely, suppose three qualities, yielding, with
the same inputs of labor and capital, net produce (after
supporting the laborers) of 100, 90 and 80 quarters of corn.
o 1. While there is plenty of quality 1 land, the farmer
will get all of the output to pay his profits.
o 2. But when quality 2 goes into cultivation, rent
appears on quality 1, since ...
o 3. All corn sells for the same price, and that price
must be sufficient to pay for the profits of the farmer
farming quality 2 land, leaving the difference as rent
for the owner of the quality 1 land--10 quarters.
o 4. And rent goes to 20 on quality 1 land and 10 on
quality 2 land when the third quality comes into
D. But there is an intensive margin as well--before the
really bad land is cultivated, it becomes worth applying more
labor and capital to the good land to get additional output.
o 1. Suppose quality 3 is in production, and that doubling
the input on quality 1 raises net output from 100 to
185. It is worth doing (cheaper than cultivating quality
3), and rent on quality 1 is now 25 quarters.
o 2. If quality 3 is not in production, and the second
dose on quality 1 is the marginal input, then quality 1
gets 15 quarters rent, quality 2 gets 5.
o 3. Price equal marginal cost, rent is output where cost
is lower than on the margin--does this start to look
o 4. The last applied capital pays no rent--i.e. P=MC!
* III. So the reason why the value of corn rises over time is not
that the rent goes up, but ...
+ A. Value goes up because the labor cost of producing one more
quarter of wheat goes up
+ B. Which causes rent to go up. "Corn is not high because a
rent is paid, but a rent is paid because corn is high."
+ C. And Smith was wrong to include rent in cost!
+ D. It is said that land is an especially good thing because
it generates rent--but
o 1. That is a result of the limited supply of land--we
would be better off if we had lots more land, hence paid
o 2. And worse off if air, water, etc. became more scarce
and started to pay rent.
o 3. If the surplus produce which rent affords is an
advantage, we should make our machinery worse each
year--giving a rent on the old machinery.
E. The increase of rent is a symptom of wealth, not a cause.
+ F. The countries in the best position to get wealthy are
those that have lots of fertile land, or can import food
freely, or have a technology that lets them increase
agricultural output per acre readily at constant cost--all
circumstances that lead to low rent.
+ G. Smith claims that the high price of corn is the effect of
rent, but ...
o 1. The price of corn is determined by the cost of
production on marginal land
o 2. Which pays no rent.
o 3. Hence the existence of rent does not affect exchange
o 4. (but the existence of the circumstance that leads to
rent--scarcity of first quality land--does affect
exchange ratios--via its effect on labor cost of
producing on marginal land)
H. A reduction in national capital, and consequent reduction
in population, would push the margin towards more fertile
lands, reducing rent.
+ I. And an improvement in agricultural technology which made
land more productive, permitting us to take the less
productive land out of production, might make rent go down,
in the short run (capital held constant).
o 1. At which point wages as a share of output would fall
o 2. Profits would increase
o 3. Accumulation of stock would increase
o 4. Eventually, the old marginal land would be back in
production, and rent back up.
* IV. Distinguish between improvements in agricultural technology
that give more output and those that reduce needed inputs (of
+ A. Improvements such as better crop rotation give you a
larger yield from any piece of land, labor held constant.
o 1. If the result is to increase output, but keep the
difference in output between successive doses of capital
and labor the same ...
o 2. Then the marginal dose comes with less capital and
labor, and rent is lower. (p. 55)
B. Improvement such as better plows give us the same output
from the land at lower cost in labor (and capital)
o 1. The same amount of land is cultivated
o 2. If the difference in output from each dose of labor +
capital remains the same, while the doses get smaller,
then rent stays the same.
C. Note that we are measuring rent as proportion of output,
not as exchangable value.
o 1. But things that push us to produce on worse land both
raise rent and ...
o 2. Raise the exchangeable value of corn
o 3. Thus doubly benefitting the landowner.
o 4. This assumes that the increased difficulty of
production is due to shifting the margin of production,
not to something that decreases output everywhere
(Japanese beetles, say). That might raise or lower rent,
depending on how it decreased output.
* I. In the case of mines as well, high rent reflects the high value
of the produce, not the other way around:
+ A. If there were an unlimited supply of equally fertile mines
o 1. the value of the produce would be the amount of labor
necessary to produce it, and ...
o 2. No rent would be paid.
B. With mines of varying fertility
o 1. The marginal mine must cover the cost of labor and
o 2. So the marginal mine's costs regulate the price
o 3. And all better mines pay rent.
C. If the labor cost of producing gold from marginal mines
was always the same, gold would be as nearly invariable a
measure of value as is possible. Ricardo will write as if
this were true--i.e. use "gold" to mean an imaginary standard
having this characteristic.
* II. Note that throughout this discussion, Ricardo is ignoring his
earlier point that revenue from an extractive industry is not
+ A. If a mine eventually runs out, part of the cost of getting
gold now is not getting it later.
+ B. If mines have unlimited amounts of ore, why don't you
produce everything you want from the most fertile mine?
+ C. The implicit model seems to be a mine that can produce at
a certain rate forever, with a fixed input required for each
unit of output--the lower the ratio of input to output,
themore fertile mine.
+ D. Which lets Ricardo apply is analysis of rent to mines, but
isn't ver realistic.
+ E. On the other hand, doing it right probably requires
Hotelling's analysis of depletable resources, which isn't
going to be written for another century or so.
* I. Of course, market price is not always equal to natural price.
+ A. Ricardo repeats Smith's argument for how equilibrium in
the capital market moves market prices towards natural
o 1. Goes through a little more detail--borrowed capital
shifting from one manufacturer to another.
o 2. Observes that it works better than might be supposed.
o 3. And notes non-pecuniary as well as pecuniary costs
II. And refers the reader back to Smith.
* I. The ability of the laborer to support himself and bring up the
children needed to maintain the working poulation depends not on
his wages but ...
+ A. on what his wages will purchase.
o 1. So the natural price of labor depends on the price of
foods, necessaries, and customary conveniences.
o 2. And with progress, tends to rise, because corn gets
more costly as we push to worse marginal land, but ...
o 3. The effect might be temporarily reduced by
improvements in agricultural technology
o 4. As happened, temporarily, for 180 years after Ricardo
B. The natural price of goods other than raw produce and
labor tends to fall over time
o 1. Since the increase in the natural price of the raw
material that goes into them
o 2. Is outweighed by improvements in technology, etc.
o 3. This is apparently an empirical claim.
C. The market price of labor, as of other goods, can deviate
from its natural price, but tends to conform.
o 1. When market price is above natural, laborers are well
o 2. When below, laborers are wretched.
D. Market rate could be above natural rate in an improving
society for an indefinite period of time
o 1. Since capital might keep accumulating
o 2. As in fact happened from then till now.
E. In talking of capital accumulating, one should distinguish
o 1. An increase in the value of capital--which might
happen because the things making it up became more
valuable (i.e. required more labor to reproduce)
o 2 And an increase in the quantity of capital.
o 3. If capital increases in quantity and value, the
natural price of labor rises, due to increased value of
the stuff needed to support it.
o 4. Capital might increase while its value held constant
or fell, in which case the natural price of labor would
be constant or declining.
o 5. In both cases, market price of labor would be above
# a. First case, only by a little, so soon back to
# b. Second by a lot, since his wages have gone up
and the cost of subsistence is constant or falling.
So it may take a long time for market wage to get
back down to natural wage.
II. The natural price of labour, measured in food etc., is not
+ A. It varies across time and space
+ B. because it depends on the habits of the working population
+ C. The more they require to feel they are doing well enough
to afford to marry and have children, the higher the natural
wage will be.
* III. Wages are affected by two factors
+ A. Supply and demand of labor
+ B. Price of what laborers buy.
+ C. If lots of fertile land is available, capital may
accumulate faster than labor.
o 1. Mimimum doubling time for population has been
estimated at 25 years, but ...
o 2. Capital might double faster than that under favorable
o 3. In which case wages would go up.
D. In new settlements, this happens--until they get pushed
onto worse land.
+ E. Contrast countries with lots of fertile land but bad
institutions with countries which are fully developed.
o 1. In the first case, introduce good government and
capital will rapidly accumulate, making people better
o 2. In the other, accumulation of capital will simply be
matched by new population.
F. The friends of humanity cannot but wish ... that workers
should have luxurious tastes.
* IV. As capital accumulates, what happens to wages?
+ A. If we look only at the supply/demand side, we observe that
capital will accumulate more and more slowly (he hasn't shown
this yet, but will), so wages will sink--i.e. be closer and
closer to the wage that gives constant population.
+ B. But the prices of necessaries are rising (because they are
being produced on worse and worse marginal land), so the wage
(measured in Ricardo's imaginary money--i.e. value) that
gives constant population is rising.
+ C. So money (i.e. value) wages rise, but real wages (in our
sense--what the laborer can buy) fall.
+ D. But the rise in money wages will lower the profit rate--as
we will see later.
+ E. So both rent and wages increase as capital and population
accumulate, but ...
o 1. The increase in rent involves the landlord getting an
increasing share of agricultural output--and selling it
at a higher price per unit
o 2. The increase in wages involves a decreasing amount of
corn--at a higher price.
o 3. The difference between the two situations being that
the landowner is selling corn, the laborer is buying it,
and the value of corn is rising.
F. All of these calculations are done in terms of Ricardo's
imaginary gold of fixed value, but the argument does not
depend on that.
o 1. One might think (Smith apparently does) that an
increase in wages would raise the price of all
o 2. But gold is a commodity--and prices are measured in
it. Its price cannot rise.
o 3. To put it differently, if prices of goods all go up
we will need more gold to circulate our goods, but ...
o 4. If prices of all goods in gold go up, the price we
are paying for gold in goods has gone down, so how can
we import gold?
o 5. So the argument works for prices in real gold as
G. Digression on the poor laws, citing Malthus:
o 1. Describes the bad consequence, but doesn't run
through the argument--number of people on welfare (in
our terms) would rise until it absorbed all of the
country's net revenue save that used by the government
o 2. But immediate abolition would have terrible
o 3. Hence gradual abolition the solution.
o 4. Sound familiar?
o 5. Shifting from a local to a national poor law (which
is suggested by Smith's attack on the settlement laws,
although I don't think he actually proposes it) would be
a bad idea
# a. Because local administration and payment gives
each parish an incentive to collect the money as
efficiently as possible, and
# b. Spend it as sparingly as possible.
# c. Which is why welfare is not yet destroying the
6. If everyone could live comfortably on welfare, the
principle of gravitation is not more certain than the
tendency of such laws to convert wealth into misery.
o 7. Presumably the part of the argument we would not see
in modern discussions of the problem of welfare is a
population argument--by supporting the unemployed poor
we keep up the laboring population, thus depress the
wages of the employed poor.
* I. What determines the average rate of profit and interest?
+ A. The higher wages (measured in labor--hence share of
output) are, the lower profit is.
o 1. Fairly obvious for the manufacturer, what about the
o 2. He is paying more money for his labor, but selling
his corn for more money, but ...
o 3. He is either producing less corn per unit of labor
(on marginal land) or paying more rent (on more fertile
than marginal land).
o 4. Since money is assumed of constant value, the amount
for which you can sell the output of an hour's labor on
marginal land is always the same. Ricardo goes through
some numbers on this.
# a. The farmer on marginal land is getting the same
amount of money, paying more in wages, so has less
# b. And the farmer on non-marginal land is paying
the difference between his output and the output of
the farmer on marginal land to the landowner as
5. Note that all of this increase in wages is with
technology fixed--output per worker is the same, save
that we are moving to worse marginal land, so output of
corn per worker on marginal land is less, but ...
o 6. That assumption is not essential, because Ricardo is
measuring everything in a money whose value (labor
input) stays constant, so measured in that money output
per worker is always the same.
B. So the farmer has an interest in keeping rent low
o 1. Not because he pays it--he really doesn't (in value
terms--go through Ricardo's analysis)
o 2. But because high rent means high value of corn means
high (value of) wages means low profits.
o 3. And even lower profit measured as a rate of return
rather than a value, since higher value of agricultural
output means higher value per unit of his capital stock,
means more value per worker employed.
o 4. So he is getting fewer £s of profit on more £s of
C. Effect on other goods:
o 1. Most goods have some agricultural output as inputs,
so will rise in value along with the increase in the
value of corn, although not by as much.
o 2. But they are rising because they have more labor
expended on them, not because the labor is more
o 3. Since, after all, the money they are measured in (by
assumption) is also being made with more expensive
o 4. And, measured in that money, profit falls as wages
o 5. All of this assumes that when corn becomes more
expensive, wages rise
# a. Which doesn't have to happen in the short run,
both because it takes time for population to adjust
and because the workers might be making above the
natural wage to start with, but ...
# b. In the long run ... .
D. The same thing would happen if there was an increase in
the price of other goods consumed by the laborer--profits
o 1. But not if there was an increase in the price of
o 2. Which labourers do not consume.
E. All of this describes equilibrium.
o 1. In the short term, some profits might rise even while
profits in general were falling, but...
o 2. They would be brought back down as capital moved into
the more profitable field.
F. Very long term story:
o 1. Over time, we push onto worse and worse land, so the
value of corn rises ...
o 2. Checked from time to time by improvements in
machinery for producing necessaries and in agricultural
o 3. Eventually we reach the point where the workers on
marginal land just produce enough to pay their wages.
o 4. So the rate of return on capital is zero, so it stops
o 5. And in fact, accumulation will stop short of that
o 6. As accumulation goes on, total amount of profits
keeps rising for a while, but eventually the reduction
in the profit rate with further accumulation outweighs
the increase in the amount of capital that rate is
earned on, so ...
o 7. Total of profit starts to go down.
o 8. But the total of value is still going up.
# a. As we move to worse land, we are still farming
the better land, so ...
# b. The increase in capital means more total output,
# c. The (agricultural) output has greater
value/unit, so ...
# d. Total value of agricultural output is
# e. Indeed, total value is increasing--more labor
(which produces a value divided between labor and
capital) and more rent.
9. So the shift in value is away from profit and into
labor and rent--the latter get a larger fraction of the
total, and eventually the former starts to fall
absolutely as well as relatively.
Chapter VII: On Foreign Trade
I. Trade does not directly increase the value annually produced by
a country, although it may increase the amount, usefulness, etc.
of the goods the country can consume.
+ A. Because if the ability to import wine cheaply increases
its quantity and drops its price, it also drops its value
o 1. Wine is now being produced by using English labor to
produce (say) cloth and trading that for Portuguese wine
o 2. And it takes less English labor to produce wine that
way than directly, so ...
o 3. It has less value--in Ricardo's sense.
B. It has been argued by high authority (Smith?) that when
capital is shifted into foreign commerce, the result will be
to raise the rate of profit in general. But ...
o 1. The purchase of foreign commodities will employ the
same, more, or less of the produce of England's land and
labor (as producing them would have before?).
o 2. If the same, then the same amount available for
o 3. If less, then more money available to purchase
domestic commidities--and more capital to produce them.
o 4. If more, then proportionally less demand for domestic
commodities, and less capital to produce them.
o 5. Putting it differently, foreign trade is simply a new
technology for producing goods, and in Ricardo's system,
new technologies (save in agriculture or necessaries for
workers) do not affect the profit rate.
o 6. But note that Ricardo has assumed away the affects of
changing labor/capital ratios--which might be relevant
if, as Smith argues, foreign trade is a capital
C. The effect of trade is to get us more usefulness for the
o 1. Which might result in more capital accumulation, if
people who don't need to spend as much money to get the
same goods save what is left, instead of buying more
goods with it.
o 2. And it could increase profits if it decreased the
cost of food and necessaries, and thus wages.
o 3. Ditto for improvements in manufacture, inland trade,
D. Profits depend only on wages (measured in value terms!),
Prices are independent of wages (rise in wage compensated by
drop in profits) but depend on productivity.
o 1. So an improvement in productivity benefits everyone
o 2. A fall in wages benefits only the owners of capital.
* II. The theory of value that explains prices within a country does
not explain prices across countries:
+ A. Because labor and capital are mobile within a country but
relatively immobile across countries.
+ B. So profit rates and wages tend to be equal within a
country but not across countries.
+ C. So exchange ratios in international trade are not
determined by ratio of embodied labor.
o 1. It might be profitable for Portugal to import from
England cloth that cost 90 man years to produce in
Portugal and 100 man years in England
o 2. Because it would be sending wine, which costs 80 in
Portugal, 120 in England.
o 3. Principle of comparative advantage first rears its
o 4. If capital and labor were perfectly mobile, this
wouldn't happen--because they would be getting more in
Portugal, and would move there.
D. Gold and silver distribute themselves among countries in
such a way as to make profitable in money terms those trades
that would be profitable in barter terms.
o 1. The cloth must sell for more in Portugal, or it won't
be imported, so ...
o 2. Wages paid 90 men in Portugal must be more than those
paid 100 men in England (actually, cost of wages plus
associated capital costs)
o 3. Which means that the value of gold in Portugal,
measured in Portuguese labor, is lower than the value of
gold in England, measured in English labor.
o 4. If it were not, gold would flow into Portugal
(exporting both cloth and wine, importing nothing) until
o 5. The specie flow mechanism for foreign trade
o 6. If England discovered a new way of making wine that
cost less than 80 man years, England would export cloth,
import nothing, until enough gold accumulated to drive
the price of one of the goods in England above that in
Portugal (This version is actually Ricardo's example,
the previous was my addition).
o 7. If there is a trade imbalance, then people who buy
bills of exchange in one country on another know they
may not be able to trade for a bill the other direction,
so discount to allow for the cost of transporting the
gold to pay the bill.
o 8. Oddly enough, if England could make both goods
cheaper (in labor), gold flowing into England and out of
Portugal would make prices in general rise in England,
fall in Portugal (until a new equilibrium was reached).
* III. Explanation of varying value of money in different countries:
+ A. If a country improves its ability to produce goods that
are readily traded, gold flows in, prices measured in gold
(real gold, not Ricardo's imaginary money) are higher.
+ B. Rate of profits may be the same, wages the same, but
everything measured in money is higher.
+ C. So real money, unlike Ricardo's imaginary money, varies in
value across countries for this reason.
+ D. But this does not imply a difference in the profit rate,
which is a ratio of two amounts of money, across countries.
+ E. In the early state of society, when goods are bulky, the
value of money depends mainly on distance from the mines
(think of the labor cost of growing corn, transporting it to
the mine, trading for gold, bringing the gold back).
+ F. But once one country improves its manufactures (of high
value to weight goods), now it is relative ability in
manufacturing those that determines the value of gold at
+ G. The higher value of money will not be indicated by the
o 1 That must be at par as long as you can freely import
and export money, and doing so does not cost very much.
o 2. A country that could prohibit the export of money
could push up its domestic prices--and push the exchange
against it. Must give 11 ounces in that country to get
10 ounces abroad.
o 3. Similarly with paper money not freely convertible
o 4. And an exchange against England is evidence that the
currency is depreciated--otherwise you would just export
money, melt it down, and have it coined as foreign