David Ricardo’s name belongs on a list the most influential classical economists in history, including Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and James Mill. Born as one of seventeen children, Ricardo learned about competitive business interactions early on from his father, Abraham Ricardo, a successful stockbroker in London.
After being estranged from his family for eloping with a Quaker woman and converting to Unitarianism, Ricardo became a self-made man as a successful broker himself. It has been speculated that he used methods that today would get him prosecuted, such as insider trading and market manipulation, to earn his generous personal fortune from the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo.
Ricardo’s interest in economics sparked after reading Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. His inspiration led him to publish his first economics article at age 37, a time in which he also bought a seat in the U.K. Parliament. Ricardo’s theories on taxation and comparative advantage were known to have a determining role in the economic development of England and the modern western world.
David Ricardo is without doubt the greatest representative of classical political economy. He carried the work begun by Adam Smith to the farthest point possible… Ricardo, writing 50 years later than Smith, showed a greater insight into the working of the economic system… In the opinion of his own contemporaries at home and abroad, Ricardo was acknowledged the leader of the science…
As a classical economist, Ricardo developed theories that expanded on the concept of absolute advantage. Using simple mathematics, he made the argument that international trade should have a greater purpose than accumulating gold or silver. Instead, Ricardo proposed that industry specialization combined with a free international trade market would always produce positive results.
… The fundamental groundwork of the Principles is based on the theory that, given free competition in trade, the exchange value of commodities will be determined by the amount of labor expended in production… [a thesis] which was given new force by the theory of distribution with which Ricardo reinforced it
In Ricardo’s On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, he suggests that nations should concentrate their resources only on industries with the highest competition. Theoretically, in the market of international free trade, this reliance on comparative advantage would lead to increasing economic prosperity for all nations involved. We carry a rare, first edition of this work here.
While Ricardo’s theories have been challenged by economists who followed, they remain a cornerstone in the concepts of international trade. One of only 750 copies, the first edition of David Ricardo’s On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation documents the groundbreaking theories that greatly shaped the international trade market we know today. Without any of the publisher’s advertisements at the end, the book is a fine example of the once innovative work written by arguably “the first ‘scientific’ economist” to have influenced our world economy.
You can read more about Ricardo’s fascinating life and theories in the rare first editions of On The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, The Works and Correspondence and The Works of David Ricardo with A Notice of the Life and Writings of the Author.