Birthplace London, England.
Posts Held Stockjobber and loan contractor, 1793-1814; Country landowner, 1814-23.
Offices and Honours Founder Member, Geological Soc.; MP Portarlington, Ireland, 1819-23; Founder, Polit. Econ. Club, 1821.
Publications Books: 1. The High Price of Bullion (1810); 2. Essay on the Influence of a Low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock (1814); 3. On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817); 4. On Protection to Agriculture (1822); 5. Plan for the Establishment of a National Bank (1824); 6. David Ricardo: Works and Correspondence , 11 vols, eds. P. Sraffa and M. H. Dobb (CUP, 1951-73).
Career Successor to Adam Smith's pre-eminent position in British economics, his influence continued to dominate the aims and methods of the discipline throughout the nineteenth century. Despite his own considerable practical experience, his writings are severely abstract and frequently difficult. His chief emphasis was on the principles of diminishing returns in connection with the rent of land, which he believed also regulated the profits of capital. He attempted to deduce a theory of value from the application of labour, but found it difficult to separate the effects of changes in distribution from changes in technology. The questions thus raised about the labour theory of value were taken up by Marx and the so-called `Ricardian socialists' as a theoretical basis for criticism of established institutions.
Ricardo's law of rent was probably his most notable and influential discovery. It was based on the observation that the differing fertility of land yielded unequal profits to the capital and labour applied to it. Differential rent is the result of this variation in the fertility of land. This priciple was also noted at much the same time by Malthus, West, Anderson, and others. His other great contribution, the law of comparative cost, or comparative advantage, demonstrated the benefits of international specialisation of the commodity composition of international trade. This was at the root of the free trade argument which set Britain firmly on the course of exporting manufactures and importing foodstuffs. His success in attaching other economists, particularly James Mill and McCulloch, to his views largely accounted for the remarkable dominance of his ideas ong after his own lifetime. Though much of this was eventually rejected, his abstract method and much of the theoretical content of his work became the framework for economic science at least until the 1870s.
Secondary Literature M. Blaug, `Ricardo, David', International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences , D. L. Sills (ed.) (Macmillan and Free Press, 1968), vol. 13; M. Blaug, Ricardian Economics. A Historical Study (Greenwood Press, 1973); B. Gordon, Political Economy in Parliament, 1819-23 (Barnes & Noble, 1977); S. Hollander, The Economics of David Ricardo (Univ. Tronto Press, 1979).