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Heinz Kurz and Neri Salvadori (eds), The Elgar Companion to David Ricardo

Volker Caspari
p. 161-163
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Heinz D. Kurz and Neri Salvadori (eds), The Elgar Companion to David Ricardo, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2015, 603 pages, ISBN 978-184844850-6

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Crédits : Edward Elgar

1Are you interested in David Ricardo, his life and his work? If not, then just stop reading here. If you are interested in the work and impact of one of the most eminent economists then you may proceed in reading this review and of course you should take a look at the Elgar Companion to David Ricardo. Heinz D. Kurz and Neri Salvadori have prepared a superb companion that mirrors their deep understanding of classical economics and additionally their familiarity with the international scene of scholars who have worked on Ricardo’s work and his life. It is their merit to have collected 86 contributions by 57 scholars from all over the world.

2The contributions of the Elgar Companion are presented in alphabetical order, starting with “Accumulation of capital” and closing with “Wicksell, Knut on Ricardo”. The reader will find entries on topics on which David Ricardo had written, i.e. the problem of an invariable measure of value, rent on land, capital and profits, international trade and taxation, to name only a few. A second group of articles deals with discussions between Ricardo and economists of his time. Outstanding was his debate with Malthus which lasted over 12 years and is documented by a voluminous correspondence between them. A third group comprises articles about eminent economists like Keynes, Samuelson or Schumpeter who interpreted or criticised Ricardo and gave him a certain place in the history of economic thought. A fourth group of entries discusses certain aspects of Ricardo’s life and activities, particularly as a member of parliament. A rather personal aspect on which some light is shed is Ricardo’s Jewish heritage.

3For a rather long time Ricardo was engrossed by either Marxists or by neoclassical economists. The Marxists regarded him as a forerunner of Marx with a slightly deficient 93% labour theory of value while the Neoclassicals interpreted him as a forerunner of the supply and demand approach developed by Marshall. With the Sraffa-edition of the Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, particularly with Sraffa’s “Introduction” and his book Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities it became obvious that classical theory was neither a forerunner of the labour theory of value nor a prelude to Marshall’s supply and demand approach. Classical theory can be regarded as a self-contained and unique approach in economics, as has been demonstrated by Garegnani (1998), Kurz and Salvadori (1995) Schefold (1997). Many but not all entries follow that perspective. There are also contributions of well-known historians of economic thought who supply alternative interpretations of Ricardian economics, e.g. Samuel Hollanders views on Ricardo’s “corn-model” and the determination of the rate of profits.

4Personally, I found the entries on how later economists interpreted Ricardo quite fascinating. There are entries on very early reactions and particularly mathematical formulations of Ricardian topics like the one on William Whewell and another one on John Edward Tozer who was associated with a group of mathematical economists around William Whewell. Tozer wrote on the “machinery problem” and tried to calculate the displacement and compensation effects of machines that were introduced into a production process. Further entries include both Mills, father James and son John Stuart, William Stanley Jevons and Alfred Marshall. I missed an entry on Edwin Cannan and Phillip Wicksteed who both were critical of Ricardo and the classical economists. Entries on more recent economists who have interpreted Ricardo include those on Mark Blaug, Paul Samuelson, and Luigi Pasinetti though an entry on Pierangelo Garegnani is missing, which is a quite disturbing neglect.

5The book includes quite a few entries on aspects of Ricardo’s theory. There are three entries that are focused on different aspects of “international trade”, five on “monetary theory”, and one that discusses the “bullionist controversy”. An entry on “Ricardian equivalence” could of course not be missing, and I found an entry on why “Ricardo refused utility as an origin of value” quite instructive.

6This Companion also contains three longer entries which focus on Ricardo’s heritage, his life and some other biographical aspects. Ricardo’s ancestors were Sephardic Jews from Portugal who migrated to the Italian city of Livorno in the late 16th century, where they lived for around a hundred years. Around 1680 the family moved to Amsterdam where Ricardo’s father was born. Ricardo’s father Abraham was sent to London to manage the investments the family had made at the stock exchange and became a British citizen only two years before David Ricardo was born. David Ricardo spent many years of his youth in Amsterdam and had a close relationship with his uncles and cousins living there. Concerning religion, one should mention that after Ricardo had married Priscilla Anne Wilkinson, who was a Quaker, he definitely did no longer belong to the Jewish community, and later in his life he converted to Unitarianism.

7In 1819 Ricardo became a member of the House of Commons and besides the well-known fact that he strongly supported free (international) trade and argued against the Corn Laws, the entry on his speeches and other activities as a “Member of Parliament” sheds some light on his general political views. In the debate over religious toleration—the Roman Catholic community was deprived of political liberties—Ricardo objected to all forms of religious discrimination based on a religious affiliation. In the case of Mary Ann Carlile, the sister of Richard Carlile, who was jailed for blasphemous libel because she had sold copies of Thomas Paine’s theological writings, David Ricardo spoke up repeatedly in the House of Commons in support of a petition for her release.

8In general, Ricardo very often argued for democratic participation. An example was his sustained assault on the conduct of monetary policy by several Tory governments. He persistently maintained that the directors of the Bank of England pursued their own interests at the expense of national interest.

9This volume of almost 600 pages can be recommended as a true companion because it belongs to the kind of books that will not be just used once and then never again. A historian of economic thought will use it time and again and therefore it is not a bad idea to have it within reach.

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Garegnani, Pierangelo. 1998. Sraffa: The Theoretical World of the ‘Old Classical Economists’. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 5(3): 415-429.

Kurz, Heinz D. and Neri Salvadori. 1995. Theory of Production: A Long-period Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schefold, Bertram. 1997. Normal Prices, Technical Change and Accumulation. Berlin: Springer.

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Volker Caspari, « Heinz Kurz and Neri Salvadori (eds), The Elgar Companion to David Ricardo », Œconomia, 9-1 | 2019, 161-163.

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Volker Caspari, « Heinz Kurz and Neri Salvadori (eds), The Elgar Companion to David Ricardo », Œconomia [En ligne], 9-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2019, consulté le 27 juin 2019. URL :

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Volker Caspari

Technical University of Darmstadt

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