David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817; 3
edn. 1821); Marc Blaug,
chapter 4: “Ricardo’s System,” pp. 91-112.
Johann H. von Thünen, Der isolierte Staat in Beziehung auf Landwirthschaft und
currently available labour and capital;
and also the relative distance from the same market:
we are discussing this in terms of regional economics with one market.
This part of theorem, on the ‘distance from the market’, did not originate with
1850), who noted , some years after the publication of Ricardo’s Principles, that the
closer a piece of land was to the urban core the higher was its market rent (reflecting
heart of the financial district on Bay or University are higher than those in, say,
Orangeville or Bolton to the north of Toronto.
market from that piece of land.
(1) in the initial stage of development, our starting point, with a stable and low level of population,
only the very best lands are under cultivation: lands that are the most fertile, the most easily worked,
and the closest to the market -- the lowest cost lands for producing grain.
(2) with population growth, the eventual diminishing returns on existing cultivated lands force into
cultivation new, but inferior or ‘marginal lands’: lands that are less fertile, more difficult to work,
and further from the market, involving higher production and transportation costs.
(3) Thus the necessary consequence of adding on more and more inferior or marginal land is the
rising cost of producing those extra bushels of grain to feed that growing population. We assume that
all people are fed.
(4) We must also assume that for any given region, for any one given market zone, there is only one
price, the prevailing price that clears the market in that region.
(5) The final or ‘equilibrium’ market price for grain will thus equal the cost of producing that last
bushel of grain (under diminishing returns) on that last unit of land forced into production to feed
that larger population. Nobody is going to produce grain for very long at a cost higher than the
market price; and nobody will be foolish enough to sell grain at lower price than the prevailing
market price. In fact, as you can now deduce, the level of population and of demand has really
determined the market price of grain; for without that increased demand, that last unit of land would
not be producing grain for the market.
(6) On that last piece of land put under cultivation, total sales revenue equals total costs, with no
surplus or ‘profit.’ The farmer earns just enough to keep him in production, without seeking
alternative employment. But conversely, on the other lands -- the more productive and lower cost
lands that were put into cultivation earlier -- total sales revenues exceed total costs, because costs
on those better lands are lower -- very much lower on the best lands. That differential produces a
surplus or a ‘profit’ called ECONOMIC RENT, which can be seen on the graph: the difference
between production costs and the market price.
Ricardo, and Marx after him, argued that all of that surplus, or profit, or ‘economic rent’ (to use the
proper term) was ‘captured’ or expropriated by the landlord: that the landlord could evict those
tenants that refused to hand over the surplus, and replace them with those working marginal lands
or with landless peasants. Furthermore, the peasant’s costs of production, in producing grain on this
land, include his own implicit wage or salary income, which, in terms of opportunity cost, must equal
his ‘transfer earnings’: i.e., must be an income sufficient to dissuade him from seeking an alternative
employment (or some alternative rental land). Therefore, denying the peasant the economic rent on
this land will not cause him to leave: see the next item in this discussion..
In historical reality, however, landlords rarely had such powers of expropriaton; and instead that
surplus was more usually shared between peasant farmer and his landlord, according to the
bargaining power of each, and according to any contract between them.
This must be understood in terms of OPPORTUNITY COST: the opportunity cost of doing A
been produced by using that factor of production in the next best alternative ‘opportunity.’ Thus,
in order to secure the use of that factor, the employer has to pay something more than its opportunity
cost: i.e. its ‘transfer earnings,’ defined as the amount necessary to keep that factor employed in its
present use. Thus any payment beyond that opportunity cost, or ‘transfer earnings,’ is economic rent,
or more simply ‘rent’.
Ricardo, in constructing his economic rent model, assumed that: (a) the land under consideration had
only one use -- growing grain (wheat) -- and (b) in the short run, the land was in fixed supply
(perfectly inelastic) and in full constant use. Nothing had to be paid, therefore, to prevent this land
from being transferred to uses other than grain growing -- no transfer payment was necessary --
because this land had no other use.
Therefore, by this model, all of the payment to land, i.e. all the rent, is a surplus over and above what
is necessary to keep it in its present use of growing grain. Finally, given the short-run fixed supply
of land, the price of land, or the rent for its use, will depend upon the demand for land, which in turn
is a function of the price of grain.
Thus, because of the Ricardo theorem, the term ‘rent’ in Classical Economics became the term for
payment of any such a ‘surplus’ to a factor of production over and above what was necessary to
maintain that factor in its present use or form of production, above its opportunity cost.
Subsequent elaborations of the theory of rent:
(a) for labour:
This term was also applied to other factors of production, especially including various forms of
labour. A movie star, for example, with a talent in very scarce and fixed supply, and enjoying a very
high demand, will earn a very large ‘rent’ over and above his/her ‘transfer earnings,’ i.e. if his/her
opportunity cost is low, when any other available alternative occupation would pay so much less.
(b) for land:
Most land, however, was seen to have other, alternative uses: i.e., livestock raising, growing other
crops, industrial applications, housing. And thus, from the point of view of any one use, part of the
use (e.g., grain growing).
(c) Thus all factors of production are really similar: and payments for most factors of production
usually consist both of a transfer payment and an economic rent.
Prices and Costs (Y axis)
Last unit of marginal land
called into production
PRODUCTION COSTS: PER BUSHEL OF GRAIN
- production costs per bushel of grain: shaded area
- economic rent per bushel of grain: blank area
population growth forces higher cost marginal lands into production, so that the
Law of Diminishing Returns: declining marginal productivity of labour, on existing
higher grain prices determine the rent (rent does not determine prices)
see Ricardo Economic Rent model
in Ricardo’s view, the landlord has the power to expropriate the entire rent
adverse change in the land:labour ratio, with diminishing returns, and falling marginal
Note: In Classical Economic Theory, the Wage Rate = MRP
higher cost of living (rising grain prices)
the real wage is the quantity of goods and services acquired with the money wage; and
it is calculated as: RW = NWI/CPI
i.e., the Nominal Wage Index (of money wages paid in current silver coin) divided by
the Consumer Price Index (the money value of a basket of consumables plus services).
which would hurt those landlords operating commercial farms,
but also hurt those peasants similarly producing grain surpluses for the markets.
(2) FALLING ECONOMIC RENTS:
which would certainly hurt landlords,
but also those peasants who had earlier managed to hold or to secure some portion of
those economic rents produced by prior population growth
(3) RISING REAL WAGES: as a result of both:
(a) much more favourable land:labour ratio
that should have increased the marginal productivity of labour (at least in
note: in Classical Theory, the Wage Rate = MRP
a fall in the cost of living, with falling food prices