Difference Between Absolute and Comparative Advatage

621 Words Nov 4th, 2005 3 Pages
The theory of comparative advantage is perhaps one of the most important concepts in international trade theory.

A country has an absolute advantage in the production of a good relative to another country if it can produce the good at lower cost or with higher productivity. Absolute advantage compares industry productivities across countries. In the case of Zambia, for instance, the country has an absolute advantage over many countries in the production of copper. This occurs because of the existence of reserves of copper ore or bauxite. We can see that in terms of the production of goods, there are obvious gains from specialisation and trade, if Zambia produces copper and exports it to those countries that specialise in the production
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Country B has an absolute disadvantage. Due to abundance of raw materials or more productively efficient production techniques, Country A is able to produce more wheat and more maize that Country B. Perhaps common sense tells us that Country A should produce both goods and export surpluses and Country B neither. However, when comparative advantage is considered a different story emerges.

Consider the opportunity cost of Country A producing one more unit of maize. Half a unit of wheat has been foregone. When country B produces one more unit of maize two units of wheat are foregone. Economics is concerned with the allocation of scarce resources. Fewer resources are foregone if Country A concentrates its resources in the production of maize.

Now consider the opportunity cost of Country B producing one more unit of wheat. Two units of maize have been foregone. When Country B produces one more unit of wheat only half a unit of maize is foregone. Fewer resources are foregone if Country B specialises in the production of wheat. In the above case Country A should produce maize and Country B wheat. The surpluses produce should then be traded.

We can see that the principle of comparative advantage is clearly counter-intuitive. Many results from the formal model are contrary to simple logic; in the other hand the logic behind absolute advantage is quite intuitive.


- Economics 7th Edition, David Begg.

- The Principle of Comparative and Absolute
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