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. Following in his father’s footsteps, he made a fortune in the stock market and was able to retire at the age of 42, which allowed him the time to focus on his research and writing.
Ricardo’s interest in economics were 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, in which he advocated for the reduction in the note-issuing of the Bank of England. In 1810, he published his first book, The High Price of Bullion, a Proof of the Depreciation of Bank Notes.
He was a member of Parliament for a number of years and was also an abolitionist, speaking at a meeting of the Court of the East India Company in March 1823, where he said he regarded slavery as a stain on the character of the nation.
Ricardo is best known for his theories on taxation and comparative advantage, which were known to have a determining role in the economic development of England and the modern western world. He carried on 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 as 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.
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. The first edition had a printing of just 750 copies.
For more information about his works, you can read The Works of David Ricardo, published in 1846.
Also, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo was compiled into this set that contains Ricardo’s published and unpublished writings, and provides great insight into the early era of political economics by chronicling Ricardo’s significant contributions to modern economics. Volumes 6–9 are dedicated to Ricardo’s personal correspondence with such economic luminaries as Malthus, Jean-Baptiste Say, and James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill.
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