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On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (19 April 1817) is a book by David Ricardo on economics.[1] The book concludes that land rent grows as population increases. It also presents the theory of comparative advantage, the theory that free trade between two or more countries can be mutually beneficial, even when one country has an absolute advantage over the other countries in all areas of production.

On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
David Ricardo - On the principles of political economy and taxation (1817, title).jpg
Title page from the first edition
Author David Ricardo
Country England
Language English
Subject Economics
Publisher John Murray
Publication date

Ricardo claims in the preface that Turgot, Stuart, Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, Sismondi, and others had not written enough "satisfactory information" on the topics of rent, profit, and wages. Principles of Political Economy is Ricardo's effort to fill that gap in the literature. Regardless of whether the book achieved that goal, it secured, according to Ronald Max Hartwell, Ricardo's position among the great classical economists Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx.

In his book Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology, economist Duncan K. Foley highlights that in the Principles Ricardo criticizes Adam Smith's treatment of the theory of value and distribution for circular reasoning, in particular as far as concerns rent, and that Ricardo considers the labor theory of value, properly understood, a more logically sound basis for political economic reasoning.[2]

Foley also discusses the chapter On Machinery, which Ricardo included in his third and final (1821) version of Principles. Here Ricardo famously analysed the impact of the adoption of machinery on the different classes of society, revising his earlier view that mechanization could be expected to be of benefit to each of the classes of the society. The increase in productivity due to mechanization lowers the production costs and thus also the real prices of commodities. Whereas the landowning class and capitalists benefit from the lower prices, workers in contrast do not reap such benefit from the lower prices if capitalists reduce the wage fund in order to finance the expensive machinery, causing technological unemployment among workers. In this case, Ricardo points out, wages are forced down by competition among workers, and the introduction of new machines can lead to an over-all decline in the well-being of the working class.[2] [3]


  1. ^ See Ricardo, David (1817), On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1 ed.), London: John Murray, retrieved 2012-12-07  via Google Books
  2. ^ a b Duncan K. Foley: Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology, 2008
  3. ^ von Tunzelmann, G. N., Technology and Industrial Progress: The Foundations of Economic Growth, Edward Elgar Publishing, 1997, p40

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