Oxford Brookes University General Departmental Seminar Presentation
On November 23rd 2015 I delivered a paper to the General Departmental Seminar of the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. The paper is entitled, 'Exploring Ricardo's Silences: Re-Historicising the Theory of Comparative Advantage', and it is available from me on request. Here is the abstract.
"According to David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, all countries stand to gain if they trade freely their surplus stock having first specialised production along the lines of relative opportunity costs. This basic insight is now two centuries old, but it remains at the heart of economists’ theories of international trade, and it also continues to provide the underlying economic ethics for liberal IPE. Any numerical example attributing any level of relative labour efficiency to any two countries across any two goods provides a simple system of equations that will demonstrate how specialisation and trade increases total world production. Ricardo’s own numbers showed a productively superior hypothetical ‘Portugal’ and a productively inferior hypothetical ‘England’ share the gains from free trade. This article, however, reinserts the historical back-story of actual eighteenth-century trading relations between the real Portugal and England that Ricardo silenced through omission. It is a highly illiberal tale of gunboats, royal intrigue and personal subjugation. Ricardo’s account of the purely market-based logic of comparative advantage writes out of economic history the centrality of both imperial wars and African slavery to the early English and Portuguese experience of ‘free’ trade. Given this historical back-story, liberal IPE thus appears to be in urgent need of new normative foundations."