Summary
In an economic model, agents have a comparative advantage over others in producing a particular good if they can produce that good at a lower relative opportunity cost or autarky price, i.e. at a lower relative marginal cost prior to trade. Comparative advantage describes the economic reality of the work gains from trade for individuals, firms, or nations, which arise from differences in their factor endowments or technological progress. (The absolute advantage, comparing output per time (labor efficiency) or per quantity of input material (monetary efficiency), is generally considered more intuitive, but less accurate — as long as the opportunity costs of producing goods across countries vary, productive trade is possible.) David Ricardo developed the classical theory of comparative advantage in 1817 to explain why countries engage in international trade even when one country's workers are more efficient at producing every single good than workers in other countries. He demonstrated that if two countries capable of producing two commodities engage in the free market (albeit with the assumption that the capital and labour do not move internationally), then each country will increase its overall consumption by exporting the good for which it has a comparative advantage while importing the other good, provided that there exist differences in labor productivity between both countries. Widely regarded as one of the most powerful yet counter-intuitive insights in economics, Ricardo's theory implies that comparative advantage rather than absolute advantage is responsible for much of international trade. Adam Smith first alluded to the concept of absolute advantage as the basis for international trade in 1776, in The Wealth of Nations: If a foreign country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better buy it off them with some part of the produce of our own industry employed in a way in which we have some advantage. The general industry of the country, being always in proportion to the capital which employs it, will not thereby be diminished [.
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