402.: ricardo to malthus1[Reply to 395.—Answered by 404] - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 8 Letters 1819-June 1821 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 8 Letters 1819-1821.
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ricardo to malthus
[Reply to 395.—Answered by 404]
Gatcomb Park Minchinhampton 24 Novr. 1820
My Dear Malthus
I have been living in a state of great uncertainty whether I should be obliged to go to London or not. It seems to be settled that Parliament will be prorogued, and therefore I do not think it necessary to take a journey to town for the sole purpose of hearing the usher of the black rods give his three taps at the door of the House of Commons with his rod of office, and which we are assured by Hobhouse would be laid about his back, if he presumed so to disturb a reformed House of Commons. The political horizon does not appear to be clearing up.—It is always unwise for a Government to set itself against the declared opinion of a very large class of the people, and it is more particularly so when the point in dispute is one trifling in itself, and of no real importance to the state. Should the public be kept in this agitated state on a question whether the Queen should be allowed a palace, or whether her name should be inserted in the Liturgy? Nothing can be more unjustifiable than to risk the public safety on such questions as these, for after raising the discussion there is no safety either in yielding or resisting.
You say in your last letter “that you are fortified with new arguments to prove demonstratively that a neat revenue is absolutely impossible under the determination to employ the whole produce in the production of necessaries, and consequently that if there is not an adequate taste for luxuries and conveniences, or unproductive labour, there must necessarily be a general glut.” I shall not trouble you to bring forward these arguments, for with a very slight alteration I should entirely concur in your proposition. If I recollect right, it is the very exception which I made, and which you mention in your book. You must collect your stock of arguments, to defend more difficult points than this.
I am quite sure that you are the last man who would mistate an adversary, knowingly, yet I find in your book some allusions to opinions which you represent as mine and which I do not really hold. In one or two cases you I think furnish the proof that you have misapprehended me, for you represent my doctrine one way in one place, and another way in another. After all the difference between us does not depend on these points and they are very secondary considerations.
I have made notes on every passage in your book which I dispute, and have supposed myself about publishing a new edition of your work, and at liberty to mark the passage with a reference to a note at the bottom of the page. I have in fact quoted 3 or 4 words of a sentence, noting the page, and then added my comment. The part of your book to which I most object is the last. I can see no soundness in the reasons you give for the usefulness of demand, on the part of unproductive consumers. How their consuming, without reproducing, can be beneficial to a country, in any possible state of it, I confess I cannot discover.
I have also written some notes on M. Say’s letters to you, with which I am by no means pleased. He is very unjust to me, and evidently does not understand my doctrine; and for the opinions which we hold in common, he does not give such satisfactory reasons as might I think be advanced. In fact he yields points to you, which may almost be considered as giving up the question, and affording you a triumph. In Say’s works, generally, there is a great mixture of profound thinking, and of egregious blundering. What can induce him to persevere in representing utility and value as the same thing? Can he really believe that our taxation operates as he describes, and can he think that we should be relieved, in the way he represents, by the payment of our National Debt?
I shall not dispute another proposition in your letter “No wealth[”] you say “can exist unless the demand, or the estimation in which the commodity is held exceeds the cost of production.” I have never disputed this. I do not dispute either the influence of demand on the price of corn and on the price of all other things, but supply follows close at its heels, and soon takes the power of regulating price in his own hands, and in regulating it he is determined by cost of production. I acknowledge the intervals on which you so exclusively dwell, but still they are only intervals. “Fifty oak trees valued at £20 each do not contain as much labour as a stone wall in Gloucestershire which costs £1000.” I have answered your question let me ask you one. Did you ever believe that I thought fifty oak trees would cost as much labour as the stone wall? I really do not want such propositions to be granted in order to support my system.
I think it is now certain that we shall stay here till Jany. Perhaps you may be in this part of the world—if so we shall expect to see Mrs. Malthus and you at Gatcomb—your visit would give great pleasure both to Mrs. Ricardo and to me. We unite in kind regards to Mrs. Malthus.—
I am Ever truly Yrs.