Comparative advantage

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The theory of comparative advantage is an economic theory about the potential gains from trade for individuals, firms, or nations that arise from differences in their factor endowments or technological progress. In an economic model, an agent has a comparative advantage over another in producing a particular good if he can produce that good at a lower relative opportunity cost or autarky price, i.e. at a lower relative marginal cost prior to trade. The closely related law or principle of comparative advantage holds that under free trade, an agent will produce more of and consume less of a good for which he has a comparative advantage.


  • If there were an Economist's Creed, it would surely contain the affirmations 'I understand the Principle of Comparative Advantage' and 'I advocate Free Trade'
    • Paul Krugman, "Is Free Trade Passé?", The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Autumn, 1987)
  • The idea of comparative advantage—with its implication that trade between two nations normally raises the real incomes of both—is, like evolution via natural selection, a concept that seems simple and compelling to those who understand it. Yet anyone who becomes involved in discussions of international trade beyond the narrow circle of academic economists quickly realizes that it must be, in some sense, a very difficult concept indeed.
    • Paul Krugman, "Ricardo's Difficult Idea," in G. Cook (ed.), Freedom and Trade: The Economics and Politics of International Trade, Volume 2 (1998)
  • Comparative advantage is not just a theory but a very important fact in the history of many nations. It has been more than a century since Great Britain produced enough food to feed its people. Britons have been able to get enough to eat only because the country has concentrated its efforts on producing those things in which it has had a comparative advantage, such as manufacturing, shipping, and financial services— and using the proceeds to buy food from other countries. British consumers ended up better fed and with more manufactured goods than if the country grew enough of its own food to feed itself. Since the real costs of anything that is produced are the other things that could have been produced with the same efforts, it would cost the British too much industry and commerce to transfer enough resources into agriculture to become self-sufficient in food. They are better off getting food from some other country whose comparative advantage is in agriculture,even if that other country’s farmers are not as efficient as British farmers.
    • Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, 4th ed. (2010), Ch. 20. International Trade

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