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Classical Economists David Ricardo, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill

Essay by   •  September 27, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,165 Words (9 Pages)  •  3,063 Views

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Abstract

This paper compares and contrasts the economic "worldviews" of classical economists David Ricardo, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill. Included in the discussion are the macroeconomic theories and methodologies as asserted by each economist.

Ricardo, Marx and Mill

David Ricardo

David Ricardo was a classical economist who tried to promote the notion that the study of economics could be considered a science. His methodology was based upon deductive reasoning in which he used hypotheses and logic based upon a set of premises that he assumed to be true in order to reach the conclusions about the validity of his theories of rent, labor and value. His deductive reasoning, which he considered to be a scientific method due to the certainty of the outcome, would follow a logical thought process. The problem with deductive reasoning is that the premises must be consistently true in order to yield a valid conclusion.

While mathematics were not considered to be an important part of Ricardo's methodology, in his use of the scientific method to bolster his abstract economic theories he did rely on empirical information gathered through observation and experience. According to Thomas Sowell, there were two major factors that the economists of the time considered when deciding on the characteristics of a science:

The validity of the claim of economics to be a science depended upon what was conceived to be the distinguishing feature of a science. To some a science was characterized by the precision and rigor of its method of analysis; to others a science was distinguished by the certainty of its results (Sowell, 2006, p. 82)

Ricardo and his adherents believed that the certainty of the results reached through the scientific method as applied to economics would not necessarily, "approach the degree of certainty found in the natural sciences...the Ricardians,... clearly understood the difference between (1) systematically developing general principles, subject to exceptions and modifying circumstances, and (2) making concrete predictions from a priori assumptions (Sowell, 2006, p. 83).

Among Ricardo's economic theories were those of rent and his theory of value as it relates to labor. In his rent theory, Ricardo asserts that rent is, "the difference between the produce obtained by the employment of two equal quantities of capital and labour" (The classical doctrine of rent, 2009). In this theory, Ricardo acknowledges that rent is first realized when inferior land is cultivated because superior property has already been used. It is at this point that the advantages of the superior land are recognized and rent becomes determined based upon the qualities of the superior land as compared to those of the inferior land. Ricardo also considered the concept of diminishing returns in his theory of rent. According to the theory, if all other things are held constant, if more capital or resources are invested in a piece of currently cultivated land, the output related will not necessarily increase in proportion to the new investment. Although the output may increase by a smaller proportion, it will still be greater than if the same resources were invested in inferior land.

Ricardo believed that the value of a product was determined by the labor that went into the acquisition of the raw materials, the production of the equipment used, as well as the labor used to manufacture the product. Ricardo acknowledged that any surplus created by the sale of the product will go to the business owner, and out of these profits, the workers will be paid. According to L.E. Johnson in "The source of value and Ricardo: an historical reconstruction":

By allowing the providers of capital a share of the product on which they bestowed no labor, Ricardo is saying that the total product of labor, direct and indirect, must exceed whatever is "essential to the support of men." Thus, there is an economic surplus over and above these essential support requirements, and the providers of capital will receive at least a portion of this surplus...that profits have to be thought of as a deduction from output and therefore from labor's share (Johnson, 1992).

Through the use of inductive reasoning, David Ricardo used the scientific method to support his economic theories of rent, the law of diminishing returns and the labor theory of value.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx was a classical economist who believed that human nature was the major force behind social and economic activity. He implemented a dialectical approach to thought used earlier by social scientist Friedrich Engels and philosopher Georg Hegel. Marx believed that science could be used to explain the changes in society and in human relationships. The dialectical approach was not based on the assumption that nature was static. In dialectical philosophy, nothing is permanent and everything is in a constant state of change and eventually disappears into nothingness. Inherent in the dialectical process are inconsistencies and contradictions that arise as things evolve. Citing Engels, Rob Sewell and Alan Woods wrote of dialectics:

For dialectical philosophy nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything: nothing can endure before it except the uninterrupted process of becoming and of passing away, of endless ascendancy from the lower to the higher. And dialectical philosophy is nothing more than the mere reflection of this process in the thinking brain" (Sewell & Woods, 2000).

Building upon the dialectic approach, Marx developed a social and political philosophy that later became the foundation for his economic thought. In order to understand Marx, it is critical that cause and the state of being are clearly distinguished from one another. Marx's dialectical approach emphasized the importance of history. He considered economics to be the dominate force in human interactions involving economic factors and a variety of other conditions. The state of being for Marx relies less on why things exist, but rather on explaining how things change over time as a result of the constant evolution espoused by the dialectical approach.

With respect to rent theory, Marx's was directly related to his labor theory of value. For example, Marx believed that efficiently run farms produce more surplus that less efficient operations. Like Ricardo, he believed that the labor involved on the acquisition of raw materials and in the building of machinery as well as the labor of actually necessary for production were factors in the determination of value. However, he thought that if labor involved in agricultural production was less

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