550.: ricardo to malthus1[Reply to 545] - 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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First published by Cambridge University Press in 1951. Copyright 1951, 1952, 1955, 1973 by the Royal Economic Society. This edition of The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., under license from the Royal Economic Society.
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ricardo to malthus
[Reply to 545]
Gatcomb Park 31 Augt. 1823
My Dear Malthus
I have only a few words more to say on the subject of value, and I have done. You cannot avail yourself of the argument that a foot may measure the variable height of a man, altho’ the variable height of a man cannot truly measure the foot, because you have agreed that under certain circumstances the man’s height is not variable, and it is to those circumstances that I always refer. You say of my measure, and say truly, that if all commodities were produced under the same circumstances of time &ca. as itself, it would be a perfect measure; and you say further that it is now a perfect measure for all commodities produced under such circumstances. If then under certain circumstances mine is a perfect measure, and yours is always a perfect one, under those circumstances certain commodities ought to vary in these two measures just in the same degree. Do they so? certainly not; then one of the measures must be imperfect. If they are both perfect mine ought to measure yours as well as yours mine.
There is no “impropriety in your saying with Adam Smith that labour will measure not only that part of the whole value of the commodity which resolves itself into labour, but also that which resolves itself into profit,” because it is the fact. But is not this true also of any variable measure you could fix on. Is it not true of Iron, Copper, lead, cloth, corn &ca. &ca.? The question is about an invariable measure of value, and your proof of invariability is that it will measure profits as well as labour, which every variable measure will also do.
I have acknowledged that my measure is inaccurate, you say; I have so; but not because it would not do every thing which you assert yours will do, but because I am not secure of its invariability . Shrimps are worth £10 in my money—it becomes necessary, we will suppose, in order to improve the shrimps to keep them one year, when profits are 10 pct., shrimps at the end of that time will be worth £11. They have gained a value of £1. Now where is the difference whether you value them in labour and say that at the first period they are worth 10 days labour and subsequently 11, or say that at the first period they are worth 10£ and subsequently 11?
I am not sure that your language is accurate when you say that “labour is the real advance in kind and [the] profits may be correctly estimated upon the advances whatever they may be.” A Farmer’s capital consists of raw produce, and his real advances in kind are raw produce . His advances are worth and can command a certain quantity of labour undoubtedly, and his profits are nothing unless the produce he obtains will command more if he estimates both advances and profits in labour, but so it is in any other commodity in which he may value his advances and returns. Does it signify whether it be labour or any other thing, provided there be no reason to suspect that it has altered in value? I know that you will say that provided his produce is sure to command a certain quantity of labour he is sure of being able to reproduce, not so if he estimates in any other thing, because that thing and labour may have undergone a great relative alteration. But may not the real alteration be in the value of labour, and if he act on the presumption of its remaining at its then rate may he not be wofully mistaken, and be a loser instead of a gainer? Your argument always supposes labour to be of an uniform value, and if we yielded that point to you there would be no question between us. A manufacturer who uniformly used no other measure of value than that which you recommend would be as infallibly liable to great disappointments as he is now exposed to in the vulgar variable medium in which he is accustomed to estimate value.
And now my dear Malthus I have done. Like other disputants after much discussion we each retain our own opinions. These discussions however never influence our friendship; I should not like you more than I do if you agreed in opinion with me.
Pray give Mrs. Ricardo’s and my kind regards to Mrs. Malthus