On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
By David Ricardo
On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, was first published in 1817 (London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street), with second and third editions in quick succession.We present Ricardo’s final revision, the third edition, published in 1821, here.The three different editions encompassed several substantive changes in the development of Ricardo’s ideas. A comprehensive, readable comparison of the three editions can be found
Works of David Ricardo, Vol. 1, ed. by Pierro Sraffa with the collaboration of M. H. Dobb, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951. We are indebted to this fine work and have relied on it to correct occasional typographical misprints in the 1821 edition.Minor editorial modifications in this edition are: removing periods after the roman numerals designating kings and “per cent.” We have also substituted modern £ symbol for the historical
l. and added commas in numbers greater than 1,000.Editor
Library of Economics and Liberty
First Pub. Date
London: John Murray
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of David Ricardo courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Ch.1, On Value
- Ch.2, On Rent
- Ch.3, On the Rent of Mines
- Ch.4, On Natural and Market Price
- Ch.5, Of Wages
- Ch.6, On Profits
- Ch.7, On Foreign Trade
- Ch.8, On Taxes
- Ch.9, Taxes on Raw Produce
- Ch.10, Taxes on Rent
- Ch.11, Tithes
- Ch.12, Land-Tax
- Ch.13, Taxes on Gold
- Ch.14, Taxes on Houses
- Ch.15, Taxes on Profits
- Ch.16, Taxes on Wages
- Ch.17, Taxes on Other Commodities
- Ch.18, Poor Rates
- Ch.19, Changes in the Channels of Trade
- Ch.20, Value and Riches
- Ch.21, Profits and Interest
- Ch.22, Bounties on Exportation, Importation
- Ch.23, On Bounties on Production
- Ch.24, Adam Smith concerning the Rent of Land
- Ch.25, On Colonial Trade
- Ch.26, On Gross and Net Revenue
- Ch.27, On Currency and Banks
- Ch.28, Comparative Value of Gold, Corn, and Labour
- Ch.29, Taxes Paid by the Producer
- Ch.30, Influence of Demand and Supply on Prices
- Ch.31, On Machinery
- Ch.32, Mr Malthus's Opinion on Rent
It is the cost of production which must ultimately regulate the price of commodities, and not, as has been often said, the proportion between the supply and demand: the proportion between supply and demand may, indeed,for a time, affect the market value of a commodity, until it is supplied in greater or less abundance, according as the demand may have increased or diminished; but this effect will be only of temporary duration.
Diminish the cost of production of hats, and their price will ultimately fall to their new natural price, although the demand should be doubled, trebled, or quadrupled. Diminish the cost of subsistence of men, by diminishing the natural price of the food and clothing, by which life is sustained, and wages will ultimately fall, notwithstanding that the demand for labourers may very greatly increase.
The opinion that the price of commodities depends solely on the proportion of supply to demand, or demand to supply, has become almost an axiom in political economy, and has been the source of much error in that science. It is this opinion which has made Mr. Buchanan maintain that wages are not influenced by a rise or fall in the price of provisions, but solely by the demand and supply of labour; and that a tax on the wages of labour would not raise wages, because it would not alter the proportion of the demand of labourers to the supply.
The demand for a commodity cannot be said to increase, if no additional quantity of it be purchased or consumed; and yet, under such circumstances, its money value may rise. Thus, if the value of money were to fall, the price of every commodity would rise, for each of the competitors would be willing to spend more money than before on its purchase; but though its price rose 10 or 20 per cent if no more were bought than before, it would not, I apprehend, be admissible to say, that the variation in the price of the commodity was caused by the increased demand for it. Its natural price, its money cost of production, would be really altered by the altered value of money; and without any increase of demand, the price of the commodity would be naturally adjusted to that new value.
“We have seen,” says M. Say, “that the cost of production determines the lowest price to which things can fall: the price below which they cannot remain for any length of time, because production would then be either entirely stopped or diminished.” Vol. ii. p. 26.
He afterwards says, that the demand for gold having increased in a still greater proportion than the supply, since the discovery of the mines, “its price in goods, instead of falling in the proportion of ten to one, fell only in the proportion of four to one;” that is to say, instead of falling in proportion as its natural price had fallen, fell in proportion as the supply exceeded the demand.
“The value of every commodity rises always in a direct ratio to the demand, and in an inverse ratio to the supply.”
The same opinion is expressed by the Earl of Lauderdale.
“With respect to the variations in value, of which every thing valuable is susceptible, if we could for a moment suppose that any substance possessed intrinsic and fixed value, so as to render an assumed quantity of it constantly, under all circumstances, of an equal value, then the degree of value of all things, ascertained by such a fixed standard, would vary according to the proportion
betwixt the quantity of them, and the demand for them, and every commodity would, of course, be subject to a variation in its value, from four different circumstances:
2. “To a diminution of its value, from an augmentation of its quantity.
3. “It might suffer an augmentation in its value, from the circumstance of an increased demand.
4. “Its value might be diminished by a failure of demand.
“As it will, however, clearly appear that no commodity can possess fixed and intrinsic value, so as to qualify it for a measure of the value of other commodities, mankind are induced to select, as a practical measure of value, that which appears the least liable to any of these four sources of variations,
which are the sole causes of alteration of value.
“When, in common language, therefore, we express the
value of any commodity, it may vary at one period from what it is at another, in consequence of eight different contingencies:
2. “From the same four circumstances, in relation to the commodity we have adopted as a measure of value.”
This is true of monopolized commodities, and indeed of the market price of all other commodities for a limited period. If the demand for hats should be doubled, the price would immediately rise, but that rise would be only temporary, unless the cost of production of hats, or their natural price, were raised. If the natural price of bread should fall 50 per cent from some great discovery in the science of agriculture, the demand would not greatly increase, for no man would desire more than would satisfy his wants, and as the demand would not increase, neither would the supply; for a commodity is not supplied merely because it can be produced, but because there is a demand for it. Here, then, we have a case where the supply and demand have scarcely varied, or if they have increased, they have increased in the same proportion; and yet the price of bread will have fallen 50 per cent at a time, too, when the value of money had continued invariable.
Commodities which are monopolized, either by an individual, or by a company, vary according to the law which Lord Lauderdale has laid down: they fall in proportion as the sellers augment their quantity, and rise in proportion to the eagerness of the buyers to purchase them; their price has no necessary connexion with their natural value: but the prices of commodities, which are subject to competition, and whose quantity may be increased in any moderate degree, will ultimately depend, not on the state of demand and supply, but on the increased or diminished cost of their production.
Say, vol. i. p. 316. See also note to page 78.
Barton, “On the Condition of the Labouring Classes of Society,” p. 16.
It is not easy, I think, to conceive that under any circumstance, an increase in capital should not be followed by an increased demand for labour; the most that can be said is, that the demand will be in a diminishing ratio. Mr. Barton, in the above publication, has, I think, taken a correct view of some of the effects of an increasing amount of fixed capital on the condition of the labouring classes. His Essay contains much valuable information.
[Chapter 6, paragraphs 16-18], where I have endeavoured to shew, that whatever facility or difficulty there may be in the production of corn; wages and profits together will be of the same value. When wages rise, it is always at the expense of profits, and when they fall, profits always rise.
“In the employment of fresh capital upon the land, to provide for the wants of an increasing population, whether this fresh capital is employed in bringing more land under the plough, or improving land already in cultivation, the main question always depends upon the expected returns of this capital; and no part of the gross profits can be diminished, without diminishing the motive to this mode of employing it. Every diminution of price, not fully and immediately balanced by a proportionate fall in all the necessary expenses of a farm, every tax on the land, every tax on farming stock, every tax on the necessary of farmers, will tell in the computation; and if, after all these outgoings are allowed for, the price of the produce will not leave a fair remuneration for the capital employed, according to the general rate of profits, and a rent at least equal to the rent of the land in its former state, no sufficient motive can exist to undertake the projected improvement.” Observations, p. 22.
[Chapter 2, paragraphs 8-11].
M. Say, in his note to the French translation of this work, has endeavoured to shew that there is not at any time land in cultivation which does not pay rent, and having satisfied himself on this point, he concludes that he has overturned all the conclusions which result from that doctrine. He infers, for example, that I am not correct in saying that taxes on corn, and other raw produce, by elevating their price, fall on the consumer, and do not fall on rent. He contends that such taxes must fall on rent. But before M. Say can establish the correctness of this inference, he must also shew that there is not any capital employed on the land for which no rent is paid (see the beginning of this note, and
[Chapter 2, paragraphs 1-2] and
[Chapter 2, paragraphs 14-15] of the present work); now this he has not attempted to do. In no part of his notes has he refuted, or even noticed that important doctrine. By his note to page 182 of the second volume of the French edition, he does not appear to be aware that it has even been advanced.
real price, instead of
cost of production.” It will be seen, from what I have already said, that to me it appears, that in these two instances he has used the term
real price in its true and just acceptation, and that in the former case only it is incorrectly applied.