Development and Underdevelopment in the History of Economic Thought

Maria Edgeworth and David Ricardo: The Potatoes Debate

Dorofeev Alexander, New York University

I analyze a series of letters between Maria Edgeworth and David Ricardo dating back to a 1822-23. This correspondence is dedicated to one of the major Irish potato famines, happening at that time. Edgeworth and Ricardo express their views on the origins of the crisis and discuss possible policies that might prevent similar disasters from arising in the future. I analyze their arguments and describe, how they are situated within the artistic work of Edgeworth and the academic legacy of Ricardo. I show that Edgeworth’s positions reflect her complex understanding of capitalism and trade and her idea of enlightened nationalism, which traverse her novels and her personal life. Instead, Ricardo’s theses display certain weaknesses of his theories of comparative advantages and abuse his theory of wages. I argue that Ricardo’s side of the correspondence leans towards imperialism on the ideological level.


Keywords: Ricardo, Trade, Imperialism, Britain, Famine