Define pure advantage, compare advantage, and opportunity costsExplain the profit of trade developed when a nation specializes

The American statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) once wrote: “No country was ever ruined by trade.” countless economists would certainly express their perspectives toward international trade in one even more positive manner. The proof that worldwide trade confers as whole benefits on economies is quite strong. Trade has accompanied economic growth in the united States and also around the world. Countless of the national economic climates that have displayed the many rapid development in the last few decades—for example, Japan, southern Korea, China, and also India—have excellent so by significantly orienting their economies toward worldwide trade. Over there is no modern example that a country that has actually shut itself turn off from human being trade and yet prospered. To understand the services of trade, or why we trade in the very first place, we require to know the ideas of comparative and also absolute advantage.

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In 1817, David Ricardo, a businessman, economist, and member that the british Parliament, wrote a treatise referred to as On the ethics of political Economy and Taxation. In this treatise, Ricardo said that field of expertise and free trade benefit all commerce partners, also those that may be reasonably inefficient. To view what that meant, we must have the ability to distinguish in between absolute and comparative advantage.

A nation has an absolute advantage in creating a great over one more country if it supplies fewer resources to create that good. Absolute benefit can it is in the an outcome of a country’s organic endowment. Because that example, extract oil in Saudi Arabia is pretty much simply a matter of “drilling a hole.” producing oil in other nations can require considerable exploration and costly technologies for drilling and also extraction—if indeed they have any oil in ~ all. The united States has actually some the the wealthiest farmland in the world, making it much easier to grow corn and also wheat than in plenty of other countries. Guatemala and also Colombia have climates particularly suited for growing coffee. Chile and also Zambia have some the the world’s richest copper mines. As some have actually argued, “geography is destiny.” Chile will carry out copper and Guatemala will produce coffee, and also they will trade. When each country has a product rather need and it can be produced with fewer sources in one nation over another, then it is basic to imagine all parties benefitting indigenous trade. However, thinking around trade just in terms of geography and absolute benefit is incomplete. Trade really occurs since of compare advantage.

Recall indigenous the chapter an option in a civilization of Scarcity that a country has a comparative advantage once a great can be produced at a lower price in terms of various other goods. The concern each nation or firm should be asking when it trades is this: “What do we provide up to develop this good?” It must be no surprised that the principle of comparative benefit is based on this idea the opportunity cost from choice in a human being of Scarcity. For example, if Zambia focuses its resources on developing copper, its labor, land and also financial resources cannot be used to produce other goods such as corn. As a result, Zambia provides up the possibility to develop corn. How do we quantify the cost in terms of various other goods? simplify the problem and also assume that Zambia just needs labor to develop copper and also corn. The providers that create either copper or corn phone call you the it take away 10 hrs to mine a ton that copper and 20 hours to harvest a bushel that corn. This way the opportunity cost of developing a ton the copper is 2 bushels of corn. The next section creates absolute and also comparative advantage in higher detail and also relates them come trade.

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A Numerical instance of Absolute and also Comparative Advantage

Consider a hypothetical human being with two countries, Saudi Arabia and also the joined States, and two products, oil and also corn. Further assume that consumers in both nations desire both this goods. These items are homogeneous, an interpretation that consumers/producers can not differentiate in between corn or oil from either country. Over there is just one source available in both countries, labor hours. Saudi Arabia can produce oil with fewer resources, while the United says can develop corn with fewer resources. Table 1 illustrates the advantages of the 2 countries, express in terms of how numerous hours it takes to produce one unit of each good.

CountryOil (hours per barrel)Corn (hours every bushel)
Saudi Arabia14
United States21
Table 1. How plenty of Hours it Takes to develop Oil and Corn

In Table 1, Saudi Arabia has actually an absolute benefit in the production of oil since it only takes an hour to create a barrel that oil compared to two hrs in the joined States. The united States has an absolute benefit in the production of corn.

To simplify, stop say that Saudi Arabia and the United says each have actually 100 worker hrs (see Table 2). We illustrate what each nation is capable of developing on its own using a production opportunity frontier (PPF) graph, presented in number 1. Remind from an option in a people of Scarcity that the manufacturing possibilities frontier reflects the best amount the each country can develop given its minimal resources, in this case workers, and its level of technology.

CountryOil production using 100 worker hours (barrels)Corn manufacturing using 100 worker hours (bushels)
Saudi Arabia100or25
United States50or100
Table 2. production Possibilities prior to Trade

Figure 1. production Possibilities Frontiers. (a) Saudi Arabia can develop 100 barrels of oil in ~ maximum and also zero corn (point A), or 25 bushels the corn and also zero oil (point B). It can likewise produce various other combinations of oil and corn if it desires to consume both goods, such as at point C. Right here it choose to produce/consume 60 barrels that oil, leaving 40 work hours that can be allocated to developing 10 bushels the corn, making use of the data in Table 1. (b) If the United states produces just oil, it have the right to produce, at maximum, 50 barrels and zero corn (point A’), or at the various other extreme, it can develop a maximum of 100 bushels the corn and no oil (point B’). Other combinations the both oil and also corn are possible, together as point C’. All points over the frontiers are impossible to develop given the existing level that resources and also technology.

Arguably Saudi and U.S. Consumers desire both oil and corn come live. Let’s say that before trade occurs, both nations produce and consume at allude C or C’. Thus, before trade, the Saudi Arabian economic climate will devote 60 worker hours to develop oil, as shown in Table 3. Offered the information in Table 1, this an option implies that it produces/consumes 60 barrels the oil. V the remaining 40 worker hours, due to the fact that it needs 4 hours to produce a bushel that corn, the can create only 10 bushels. To be at point C’, the U.S. Economic situation devotes 40 worker hours to create 20 barrels that oil and also the staying worker hours deserve to be allocated to produce 60 bushels of corn.

CountryOil production (barrels)Corn production (bushels)
Saudi Arabia (C)6010
United claims (C’)2060
Total people Production8070
Table 3. Production prior to Trade

The steep of the production possibility frontier illustrates the opportunity cost of producing oil in regards to corn. Utilizing all that resources, the United says can create 50 barrels the oil or 100 bushels that corn. So the opportunity expense of one barrel that oil is two bushels the corn—or the slope is 1/2. Thus, in the U.S. Production opportunity frontier graph, every rise in oil manufacturing of one barrel suggests a decrease of two bushels that corn. Saudi Arabia can create 100 barrels the oil or 25 bushels that corn. The opportunity cost of creating one barrel of oil is the ns of 1/4 that a bushel that corn the Saudi workers can otherwise have produced. In terms of corn, notice that Saudi Arabia provides up the least to produce a barrel that oil. This calculations room summarized in Table 4.

CountryOpportunity cost of one unit — Oil (in regards to corn)Opportunity expense of one unit — Corn (in regards to oil)
Saudi Arabia¼4
United States2½
Table 4. opportunity Cost and Comparative Advantage

Again recall that comparative benefit was identified as the opportunity price of developing goods. Since Saudi Arabia gives up the the very least to create a barrel the oil, (1414 Table 4) it has a comparative advantage in oil production. The unified States provides up the least to produce a bushel the corn, so it has actually a comparative benefit in corn production.

In this example, over there is symmetry in between absolute and also comparative advantage. Saudi Arabia needs fewer worker hours to produce oil (absolute advantage, see Table 1), and likewise gives increase the the very least in regards to other products to create oil (comparative advantage, view Table 4). Such symmetry is not always the case, together we will show after us have discussed gains from profession fully. However first, review the following Clear it Up function to make certain you understand why the PPF line in the graphs is straight.

Can a production opportunity frontier it is in straight?

When you an initial met the production opportunity frontier (PPF) in the thing on an option in a world of Scarcity that was attracted with one outward-bending shape. This shape shown that as inputs were moved from developing one an excellent to another—like from education and learning to health services—there were boosting opportunity costs. In the examples in this chapter, the PPFs are drawn as straight lines, which method that opportunity expenses are constant. As soon as a marginal unit of labor is moved away from cultivation corn and also toward creating oil, the decline in the quantity of corn and also the boost in the amount of oil is always the same. In truth this is feasible only if the donation of extr workers to calculation did not adjust as the scale of manufacturing changed. The direct production possibilities frontier is a much less realistic model, but a straight line simplifies calculations. It additionally illustrates economic themes prefer absolute and comparative advantage just together clearly.

Gains indigenous Trade

Consider the trading positions of the joined States and Saudi Arabia after they have committed and traded. Prior to trade, Saudi Arabia produces/consumes 60 barrels of oil and 10 bushels that corn. The United claims produces/consumes 20 barrels that oil and 60 bushels the corn. Provided their present production levels, if the unified States have the right to trade an quantity of corn fewer than 60 bushels and also receives in exchange an quantity of oil better than 20 barrels, it will certainly gain indigenous trade. Through trade, the joined States deserve to consume more of both goods than that did there is no specialization and trade. (Recall the the chapter Welcome come Economics! characterized specialization together it uses to workers and also firms. Specialization is also used to explain the event when a nation shifts sources to emphasis on creating a good that supplies comparative advantage.) Similarly, if Saudi Arabia can trade an amount of oil less than 60 barrels and receive in exchange an amount of corn better than 10 bushels, it will certainly have more of both items than the did prior to specialization and trade. Table 5 illustrates the selection of trades that would benefit both sides.

The U.S. Economy, ~ Specialization, Will advantage If It:The Saudi Arabian Economy, ~ Specialization, Will advantage If It:
Exports no an ext than 60 bushels that cornImports at least 10 bushels of corn
Imports at least 20 barrels of oilExports much less than 60 barrels of oil
Table 5. The selection of Trades That benefit Both the unified States and also Saudi Arabia

The underlying factor why trade benefits both political parties is rooted in the principle of possibility cost, as the adhering to Clear it Up function explains. If Saudi Arabia wishes to expand domestic production of corn in a human being without international trade, then based on its opportunity prices it must give up 4 barrels of oil for every one extr bushel of corn. If Saudi Arabia might find a way to provide up much less than four barrels the oil for an additional bushel that corn (or equivalently, come receive more than one bushel the corn for four barrels of oil), it would certainly be better off.

What room the opportunity costs and also gains from trade?

The range of trades the will advantage each nation is based upon the country’s opportunity expense of producing each good. The United says can create 100 bushels the corn or 50 barrels that oil. Because that the joined States, the opportunity price of creating one barrel that oil is 2 bushels the corn. If we divide the numbers over by 50, we acquire the same ratio: one barrel the oil is equivalent to 2 bushels the corn, or (100/50 = 2 and also 50/50 = 1). In a trade through Saudi Arabia, if the United claims is going to offer up 100 bushels the corn in exports, it should import at the very least 50 barrels that oil to be just as well off. Clearly, to gain from trade it needs to have the ability to gain an ext than a half barrel of oil for its bushel of corn—or why trade at all?

Recall the David Ricardo argued that if each nation specializes in its comparative advantage, that will benefit from trade, and total global output will increase. How can we show gains from profession as a an outcome of comparative advantage and specialization? Table 6 mirrors the calculation assuming the each nation specializes in that is comparative benefit and produce no various other good. This is 100% specialization. Field of expertise leads to an increase in total world production. (Compare the total world production in Table 3 to the in Table 6.)

CountryQuantity produced after 100% field of expertise — Oil (barrels)Quantity created after 100% expertise — Corn (bushels)
Saudi Arabia100 0
United States 0100
Total civilization Production100100
Table 6. how Specialization increases Output

What if we did no have finish specialization, as in Table 6? would there still be gains indigenous trade? Consider an additional example, such as when the unified States and also Saudi Arabia begin at C and C’, respectively, as shown in number 1. Think about what occurs as soon as trade is enabled and the United says exports 20 bushels of corn to Saudi Arabia in exchange because that 20 barrels of oil.

Figure 2. manufacturing Possibilities Frontier in Saudi Arabia. Profit from trade of oil have the right to increase just by achieving much less from trade of corn. Opposing is true as well: The an ext gains from profession of corn, the under gains from trade of oil.

Starting at allude C, mitigate Saudi Oil production by 20 and also exchange it because that 20 units of corn to reach suggest D (see figure 2). Notification that also without 100% specialization, if the “trading price,” in this situation 20 barrels the oil because that 20 bushels the corn, is better than the country’s opportunity cost, the Saudis will obtain from trade. Certainly both countries consume more of both products after committed production and also trade occurs.

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Key Concepts and also Summary

A nation has one absolute advantage in those products in which it has actually a productivity edge over other countries; it takes fewer sources to develop a product. A country has a comparative benefit when a an excellent can be produced at a lower price in state of other goods. Countries that specialize based upon comparative benefit gain indigenous trade.

Self-Check Questions

True or False: The resource of comparative advantage must it is in natural facets like climate and also mineral deposits. Explain.Brazil can create 100 pounds of beef or 10 autos; in comparison the United states can create 40 pounds that beef or 30 autos. Which nation has the absolute advantage in beef? Which nation has the absolute advantage in producing autos? What is the opportunity cost of producing one lb of beef in Brazil? What is the opportunity expense of producing one lb of beef in the unified States?In France it takes one worker to produce one sweater, and one worker to create one bottle of wine. In Tunisia that takes two workers to produce one sweater, and also three employees to develop one party of wine. Who has actually the absolute advantage in production of sweaters? Who has actually the absolute advantage in the production of wine? How have the right to you tell?

Review Questions

What is absolute advantage? What is to compare advantage?Under what problems does comparative advantage lead come gains from trade?What factors does Paul Krugman identify that sustained the growth of worldwide trade in the 1800s?

Critical reasoning Questions

Are differences in location behind the distinctions in absolute advantages?Why go the United states not have an absolute benefit in coffee?


France and Tunisia both have Mediterranean climates the are great for producing/harvesting environment-friendly beans and tomatoes. In France it takes two hours for every worker come harvest green beans and also two hrs to harvest a tomato. Tunisian workers need only one hour come harvest the tomatoes yet four hours to harvest green beans. Assume there are just two workers, one in each country, and each functions 40 hrs a week.

Draw a production possibilities frontier because that each country. Hint: psychic the production opportunity frontier is the maximum that all workers can create at a unit of time which, in this problem, is a week.Identify which nation has the absolute advantage in green beans and also which nation has the absolute advantage in tomatoes.Identify which nation has the to compare advantage.How much would France have actually to offer up in terms of tomatoes to gain from trade? how much would certainly it have actually to provide up in terms of eco-friendly beans?


Krugman, Paul R. Pop Internationalism. The MIT Press, Cambridge. 1996.

Krugman, Paul R. “What carry out Undergrads should Know about Trade?” American economic Review 83, no. 2. 1993. 23-26.

Ricardo, David. On the principles of politics Economy and also Taxation. London: man Murray, 1817.

Ricardo, David. “On the values of political Economy and Taxation.” Library of Economics and also Liberty.


absolute advantagewhen one nation can usage fewer resources to produce a an excellent compared to an additional country; when a country is more productive contrasted to an additional countrygain native tradea country that can consume an ext than it can create as a an outcome of specialization and also trade


Answers to Self-Check Questions

False. Anything the leads to different levels the productivity in between two economies can be a resource of to compare advantage. Because that example, the education of workers, the understanding base of engineers and also scientists in a country, the part of a split-up worth chain wherein they have actually their committed learning, economies of scale, and other determinants can all determine comparative advantage.Brazil has actually the absolute advantage in developing beef and the unified States has the absolute advantage in autos. The opportunity price of creating one lb of beef is 1/10 of one auto; in the United says it is 3/4 of an auto.In comment questions favor these, it is often advantageous to begin by organizing the details in a table, such as in the adhering to table. An alert that, in this case, the productivity of the nations is express in terms of how many workers the takes to create a unit that a product.CountryOne SweaterOne party of wine
France1 worker1 worker
Tunisia2 workers3 workers
Table 7.

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In this example, France has an absolute benefit in the manufacturing of both sweaters and wine. You deserve to tell because it take away France less labor to produce a unit the the good.