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Definition of Comparative Advantage

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Definition: To illustrate the concept of comparative advantage requires at least two goods and at least two places where each good could be produced with scarce resources in each place. The example drawn here is from Ehrenberg and Smith (1997), page 136. Suppose the two goods are food and clothing, and that "the price of food within the United States is 0.50 units of clothing and the price of clothing is 2 units of food. [Suppose also that] the price of food in China is 1.67 units of clothing and the price of clothing is 0.60 units of food." Then we can say that "the United States has a comparative advantage in producing food and China has a comparative advantage in producing clothing. It follows that in a trading relationship the U.S. should allocate at least some of its scarce resources to producing food and China should allocate at least some of its scarce resources to producing clothing, because this is the most efficient allocation of the scarce resources and allows the price of food and clothing to be as low as possible.

Famous economist David Ricardo illustrated this in the 1800s using wool in Britain and wine from Portugal as examples. The comparative advantage concept seems to be one of the really challenging, novel, and useful abstractions in economics.

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