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David Ricardo

RICARDO, DAVID (1772–1823), British economist. He was born in London into a Sephardi family which in 1760 had immigrated from Holland. He was sent to Holland for a traditional Jewish education. After his return to London in 1786, Ricardo joined his father, Abraham Ricardo (d. 1812), a successful member of the stock exchange. In 1793 he married the daughter of a Quaker, broke with his family and left the faith, although he persistently advocated religious liberties and the removal of Jewish disabilities. Having become a member of the stock exchange on his own, Ricardo showed unusual ability and soon achieved financial independence. In 1814 he retired from business, turned to the study of economics, and became one of the founding fathers of modern economics. His interest in this field dated back to 1799 when he read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. His publications were widely discussed and in 1819 Ricardo entered parliament, and took an active interest in current affairs. Ricardo's major contributions to economics were embodied in his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (London, 1817).

Ricardo was a rigorous theorist, and much of today's knowledge about currency, taxation, and international trade is based on Ricardo's analysis. His monetary views foreshadowed the 1844 Bank Act and laid the foundations of an "economical and secure currency" which has remained the major objective of modern monetary policy. In the field of fiscal policy he expounded the broad economic consequences of taxes on capital accumulation, the distribution of national income, and price levels. His theory of international trade and his principles of the comparative advantage provided the scientific basis for the rule of free trade. Although critics differ on the validity of Ricardo's doctrines, there is agreement on his permanent merits as a methodologist. Ricardo introduced the first abstract models and established the concept of political economics as a body of principles dealing with material resources. His lasting merit is the definite transformation of economic speculation into a scientific discipline. His collected works and correspondence, edited by the great economist Piero *Sraffa and by M.H. Dobb, were published in 1951–73. With Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and Karl Marx, David Ricardo is regarded as among the seminal figures in Britain who, between the late 18th and mid-19th centuries, invented modern economics. Ricardo died at the age of only 51, leaving an enormous fortune of £500,000 that he had earned as a stockbroker, and much land. Many among Ricardo's family also had notable careers. His sister SARAH RICARDO PORTER (1790–1862) was one of the first Englishwomen to write on education. His nephew JOHN LEWIS RICARDO (1812–1862) was a member of Parliament and a key promoter of the electric telegraph in the 1840s. His collateral descendants include the architect HALSEY RALPH RICARDO (1954–1928) and his son, the mechanical engineer SIR HARRY RALPH RICARDO (1885–1974), who was a crucial figure in the development of the tank for the British army in World War I and who served as president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1944–45. He wrote an autobiography, Memories and Machines (1968).


P.H. Emden, Jews of Britain (1943), 47–59, index; J.H. Hollander, David Ricardo, a Centenary Estimate (1910); M. Blaug, Ricardian Economics (1958). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: ODNB online; T. Peach, Interpreting Ricardo (1993).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.