Comparative Advantage

Meaning of Comparative Advantage

Comparative advantage refers to the ability of a country to produce particular goods or services at a lower opportunity cost compared to the others in the field. Due to differences in geographical situations, the efficiency of labor, climate, and natural resources, a country may have the ability to produce a commodity at a lower cost compared to the other.

In such cases, every country specializes in producing the commodity in which the cost of its comparative production is the least. Therefore, all the entities can mutually benefit from voluntary trade and cooperation. This economic law was recognized by a political economist, David Ricardo, in his book ‘Principles of Political Economy and Taxation’ in 1817.

After understanding the meaning of comparative advantage, let us look at the assumptions of this theory.

Assumptions of Comparative Advantage

The following are the assumptions of the Ricardian doctrine of comparative advantage:

  1. There are only two countries, assume A and B.
  2. Both of them produce the same two commodities, X and Y.
  3. Labour is the only factor of production.
  4. The supply of labor is unchanged.
  5. All labor units are homogeneous.
  6. Tastes are similar in both countries.
  7. The labor cost determines the price of the two commodities
  8. The production of commodities is done under the law of constant costs or returns.
  9. The two countries trade on the barter system.
  10. Technological knowledge is unchanged.
  11. Factors of production are perfectly mobile within each country. However, they are immobile between the two countries.
  12. Free trade is undertaken between the two countries. Trade barriers and restrictions in the movement of commodities are absent.
  13. Transport costs are not incurred in carrying trade between the two countries.
  14. Factors of production are fully employed in both the countries.
  15. The exchange ratio for the two commodities is the same.
Comparative Advantage

Also, read International Financial Markets and International Financial Management.

After knowing the assumptions of comparative advantage, let us also know the criticisms for the same.

Criticisms of Comparative Advantage

The following are the criticisms of the Ricardian doctrine of comparative advantage:

  1. The theory only considers labor costs and neglects all non-labor costs involved in the production of the commodities.
  2. The theory considers all labor to be homogenous. However, in reality, labor is heterogeneous due to different grades and kinds.
  3. The theory assumes similar tastes for all. However, the tastes differ with the growth of economies and income brackets.
  4. The theory assumes that a fixed proportion of labor is used in the production of all commodities. However, in reality, the utilization of the proportion of labor depends on the type of commodity being produced.
  5. The theory has an unrealistic assumption of constant costs. However, large-scale productions lead to cost reduction and thereby increase the comparative advantage.
  6. Transport costs play an essential role in determining the pattern of trade. But the Ricardo theory neglects this independent factor of production.
  7. The assumption of the factors of production being mobile internally is unrealistic. The factors do not move freely from one region to another or one industry to another. The greater the degree of specializations in an industry, the more immobile the factor will be.
  8. The assumption of the theory of having only two countries and two commodities is unrealistic as international trade takes place among countries trading numerous commodities.
  9. Every country implements restrictions on the movement of goods to and from the countries. Thus, tariffs and trade restrictions play a role in world imports and exports. However, the theory assumes free and perfect world trade.
  10. The theory assumes full employment. However, every economy has an existence of underemployment.
  11. A country may or may not want to trade a commodity due to military, strategic, or development considerations. Therefore, self-interest stands in the operation of the comparative advantage theory.
  12. The Ricardian theory considers only the supply side of world trade and neglects the demand side.
  13. The theory only explains how two countries gain from international trade. But the theory fails to explain how the gains from the trade are distributed between the two countries.


Despite weaknesses, The Ricardian theory of comparative advantage has remained significant over the years. The basic structure of the theory still exists with a few refinements. It is believed that a nation that neglects this theory may have to pay a heavy price in terms of the potential rate of growth and living standards.

Continue reading – Competitive Advantage vs. Comparative Advantage

Sanjay Borad

Sanjay Bulaki Borad

MBA-Finance, CMA, CS, Insolvency Professional, B'Com

Sanjay Borad, Founder of eFinanceManagement, is a Management Consultant with 7 years of MNC experience and 11 years in Consultancy. He caters to clients with turnovers from 200 Million to 12,000 Million, including listed entities, and has vast industry experience in over 20 sectors. Additionally, he serves as a visiting faculty for Finance and Costing in MBA Colleges and CA, CMA Coaching Classes.

2 thoughts on “Comparative Advantage”

  1. Hi Sanjay!
    As I understood, the production quality is also said to be dependent only on labor quality. Why? I found this absurd.
    Please help me understand why such an assumption, any improvement/modification considered, what’s the modified assumption if this theory is so significant and still relevant?


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