455.: malthus to ricardo3[Reply to 444 & 454.—Answered by 458] - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 9 Letters 1821-1823 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 9 Letters 1821-1823.
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malthus to ricardo
[Reply to 444 & 454.—Answered by 458]
E I Coll Sepr 13th 1821.
My dear Ricardo,
I was just thinking of writing to you on a knotty point when your letter arrived. I received your former letter just as we were getting into the carriage on our way home, but partly from a good deal of business of various kinds which I found on my arrival, and partly from despair of approaching you much nearer on the question we were then discussing, I did not rejoin.
I am glad to hear your account of Place’s work, and hope it will be of use. I should think Murray would have no objection to publish it. If it is written, as you say in a popular manner, it may perhaps have a good sale. I am much obliged to you for the representation you have made in my defence. I am not conscious of ever having said anything to countenance calumnious reports against the poor, and most certainly I never intended to do so. The principal accusations which you say he has brought against the rich seem rather to have originated in ignorance than want of sympathy.
I have only had an opportunity of looking a little at Mr. Ravenstone’s book. It is certainly as you say full of errors, but I believe he is a well meaning man and I shall look at it again.
I think Say’s argument may be considered rather as an artificial and ingenious mode of avoiding the consequences of his doctrine than as a satisfactory explanation. I have always thought his doctrine of utility an abuse of the natural meaning of the term, and even according to his present mode of explanation, much contradiction is involved in it. At the same time I should say, that as there is certainly no measure of utility, taken in the common acceptation of the term, and as a part of the same article, how usefulsoever, may become quite useless if it be in excess above the demand, there is no other way of approximating towards an estimate of relative wealth, than by an estimate of relative value, formed by a comparison with the objects least liable to variations. (but not, as Mr. Say says, merely with the “la plus ou moins grande quantité d’un autre produit quelconque[”]). By the by I may say, en passant, relative to this subject, that I now incline more to that explanation of value which your views would dictate, but that I am more than ever convinced that I am right in the approximating measure of it which I have proposed.
The knotty question I wanted to lay before you is a case in point. I wish to ask whether any commodity can with propriety be considered as of a fixed value independently of money, which while it continues to require the same advances of labour and capital for its production, is obtained at different periods, at a very different rate of profits. The natural price of a commodity according to Adam Smith consists of the necessary advances, together with the ordinary rate of profits upon them; and this I think you would allow. Now of two commodities, which, I would ask, is likely to remain the most fixed? that, in which, while the advances in labour increase, the rate of profits diminishes; or that, in which while the advances in labour remain the same the profits of stock diminish. The latter article must it appears to me, be considered as falling in value estimated in any steady commodity, that is either in money obtained by a given quantity of labour without capital, or in money obtained by a given quantity of labour, a given quantity of capital, and a given rate of profits. If this be so, supposing at an early period of society (owing to the small quantity of labour necessary to produce corn) profits were 100 per cent, and money were produced in the same country at the same rate of profits, then upon the increase of the quantity of labour on the land, and fall of profits, when corn and labour estimated in such money might appear to have doubled; would it not be more correct to say that money and those commodities which had continued to require the same quantity of labour, had fallen to half their value. They would certainly appear to have done so estimated in any common external commodity which had all along been produced by the same quantity of labour, and at the same rate of profits. In the same country, where profits are the same, the prices of commodities may vary according to the quantity of labour, but this is only a relative variation, and may arise from a high value of one, as well as a low value of the other. We cannot surely assume that the cost of producing the necessaries of the labourer is low absolutely when the land is productive, if what is gained by the small quantity of labour employed is counterbalanced by the very high rate of profits.
I fear I have not explained myself tolerably, but you will see that the question involves most important consequences. Let me hear from you on the subject; and by the by tell me what you think of Torrens. Kind regards to Mrs. R.
Ever truly Yours
T R Malthus
In the two extreme cases of the highest profits and the lowest profits on the land, may not corn and labour remain of the same value estimated in some external steady commodity, although in the interval considerable variations may have taken place from supply and demand.