Back to agriculture? Malthus, torrens, and ricardo on international trade and structural change

Rodolfo Signorino, Giuseppe Freni, Rodolfo Signorino, Neri Salvadori

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Abstract

In this article, we have analyzed the relationships among internationaltrade, structural change, and economic growth in Malthus 1817 and 1826,Torrens 1815, and Ricardo 1822. In his Essay and in the 1815 pamphletGrounds of an Opinion Malthus addressed international trade policy issuesand elaborated quite a few arguments, ranging from economics to geopolitics,to support food protectionism. In this article, we have focused on Malthus’sviews concerning international trade-induced structural change andthe long-run growth prospects of an industrial country that heavily dependson foreign corn imports to feed its own population. To put it briefly, Malthusclaimed that, in the long run, agricultural countries will develop theirdomestic manufactures and cut both their corn exports and their imports offoreign industrial goods. That was the main economic reason why Malthustried to persuade his readers that a food protectionist policy was the mosteffective way for the British economy to head toward a balanced and internationaltrade-independent pattern of growth. In the Essay, Malthus neverconsidered that international trade triggers a structural change process bothin agricultural and industrial countries. By contrast, that was the gist ofTorrens’s and Ricardo’s opposition to food protectionism in An Essay onthe External Corn Trade (1815) and On Protection to Agriculture (1822),respectively. Accordingly, we have reconstructed and assessed Torrens’sand Ricardo’s views on the subject. Moreover, we have shown that, althoughTorrens and Ricardo reached broadly similar conclusions as concerns thelong-run equilibrium of British agriculture in a free trade scenario, theyfollowed two different analytical routes: Torrens generalized the Smithian“competition of capitals” argument employed by Malthus to the analysis offree trade among an agricultural and an industrial country, while Ricardogeneralized his model of growth and distribution among trading countriesendowed with plots of land characterized by different fertility and transportcosts. Finally, we have argued that the theory of differential extensive rentmay be used in a free international trade setting to derive further analyticalresults than those actually reached by Ricardo.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)935-955
Numero di pagine21
RivistaHistory of Political Economy
Volume51
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Economics and Econometrics

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