NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage: Old Idea, New Evidence

Arnaud Costinot, Dave Donaldson

NBER Working Paper No. 17969
Issued in April 2012
NBER Program(s):   ITI

When asked to name one proposition in the social sciences that is both true and non-trivial, Paul Samuelson famously replied: 'Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage'. Truth, however, in Samuelson's reply refers to the fact that Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage is mathematically correct, not that it is empirically valid. The goal of this paper is to assess the empirical performance of Ricardo's ideas. We use novel agricultural data that describe the productivity in 17 crops of 1.6 million parcels of land in 55 countries around the world. Crucially, this dataset contains information about the productivity of each parcel of land in all crops, not just those that are currently being grown. This direct information about relative productivity differences across economic activities allows us to compute, for the first time, the output predicted by Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage. Despite all of the real-world considerations from which this theory abstracts, we find that Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage has significant explanatory power in the data, at least within the scope of our analysis.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

Information about Free Papers

You should expect a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.

E-mail:

Acknowledgments

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17969

Published: Arnaud Costinot & Dave Donaldson, 2012. "Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage: Old Idea, New Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(3), pages 453-58, May.

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Hanson w17961 The Rise of Middle Kingdoms: Emerging Economies in Global Trade
Jaremski and Rousseau w18021 Banks, Free Banks, and U.S. Economic Growth
Reinhart, Reinhart, and Rogoff w18015 Debt Overhangs: Past and Present
Atalay, Hortacsu, and Syverson w18020 Why Do Firms Own Production Chains?
Levchenko and Zhang w18061 Comparative Advantage and the Welfare Impact of European Integration
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us