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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 104 of Edwin Cannan’s September 1894 Economic Journal paper, “Ricardo in Parliament,” as this paper is reprinted in the 1912 collection of some of Cannan’s essays, The Economic Outlook (E. Cannan, ed.):

On the notion that because commerce and manufacture were protected, agriculture should be protected also, he [David Ricardo] made short work. “The argument of the agriculturalist was,” he said, “that the legislature having enabled the shipowner and cotton manufacturer to injure the community, they should give him a privilege to do the same.”

DBx: Ricardo (1772-1823) was first elected to the House of Commons (from the Irish borough of Portlarington) in February 1819. He remained a member until his death on September 11th, 1823. In the essay of Cannan quoted above, Ricardo is revealed as being a principled liberal. As Cannan notes (on page 89), “Ricardo invariably acted with the most liberal section of the House.” During his time in Parliament, he voted to reduce the severity of criminal penalties, to eliminate state lotteries, to make speech freer, and to extend the franchise. He also pressed for freer trade, especially by speaking out against the Corn Laws.

Because Ricardo, who was among the wealthiest people in Britain, had most of his wealth in land, Ricardo’s opposition to the Corn Laws – which were legislatively imposed restrictive barriers to the importation into Britain of grain – was directly against his personal interest. The Corn Laws artificially increased the returns on land in Britain used to grow grain and, thus, artificially increased land values.