Some Leading Principles of Political Economy Newly Expounded

By J. E. Cairnes | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II.
INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ITS RELATION TO THE RATE OF
WAGES.

§ 1. I HAVE endeavored in the foregoing chapter to set forth the theory of international trade, as it was first thought out by Ricardo, and subsequently expounded by Mill. In doing so, I remarked that the doctrine, though undoubtedly comprising the more fundamental conditions determining the interchange of nations, is, nevertheless, in certain respects defective. It remains for me now to point out wherein consists the shortcomings then referred to.

In the first place, I must observe that cost of production, though it may be, and generally is, the ultimate condition governing international exchange, is never in any case the proximate or immediate cause. That proximate or immediate cause is not cost, but price. The ordinary merchant whose business leads him into foreign trade knows nothing of "cost of production," as consisting of labor and abstinence, and still less does he know of "comparative cost of production." The considerations which determine his conduct are far more simple. He attends, not to the cost--the expenditure of labor and abstinence--at which commodities may be produced, but to the prices at which they may be bought and sold, and the only comparison he enters into is a comparison of the prices of the articles he deals in as they are in his own country and in the foreign market with which he trades. When the state of prices in these different localities is such as to render it profitable to transport commodities from one to the other for the

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