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Comparative advantage, specialization, and gains from trade

Explore the concept of comparative advantage with two fictional dinnerware producers, Charlie and Patty. Charlie has a comparative advantage in producing cups, while Patty has a comparative advantage in producing plates. By specializing in these areas and then trading with each other, both producers are able to get outcomes that they wouldn't have been able to achieve on their own. Created by Sal Khan.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user doodle duck
    Is it possible that one country has a comparitive advantage in the production of some good while the other country has an absolute advantage in the production of that same good?
    (25 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Matin
      Yes, all it requires is that the comparative advantage i.e. opportunity cost of making that good for Country A is lower than Country B, regardless of absolute figures. E.g. if country A produces can produce 20 Bananas or 40 Tyres and country B produces 10 Bananas or 30 Tyres. Then country A clearly has an absolute advantage in making tyres but the opportunity cost for country A in producing a tyre is 1/2 banana while the opportunity cost for country B is only 1/3 banana so it has a lower opportunity cost and we say country B has a comparative advantage
      (46 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Hugh Jones
    Comment:

    Absolute Advantage: I can make more plates than you.
    Comparative Advantage: I can make more plates than I can make cups.

    :-)
    (1 vote)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user tuannb1997
    So, with proper use of comparative advantages and trade, market Production Possibility Frontier might substantially shift rightward while the opportunity cost is lowered, right ?
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user uyi_osifo
    Do you know how to calculate the total gain in production due to specialization?
    (6 votes)
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    • mr pants teal style avatar for user Wrath Of Academy
      It's always calculable in theory. What it is depends on the surrounding conditions. Ie, in this scenario they apparently valued cups and plates equally, so you can compare the (30 cups, 30 plates) scenario from trading, to what they would have been able to each produce in even amounts. In this case they would have each been able to do (7.5 cups, 7.5 plates) for a total of (15 cups, 15 plates), so trading doubles their output. To see why it's 7.5 cups/plates, find the point on the lines where cups and plates are equal.
      (6 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user V Ananya
    Are there any videos on Leotief Paradox, Heckscher-Ohlin Model, etc. of International Economics here!?
    (6 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user lasith10
    What happens if the opportunity cost of both parties are the same but they have different efficiencies (i.e. the time taken to produce the good or service) is different. Will it lead to complete specialization and will there be any trade between the parties? Thank you.
    (6 votes)
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    • ohnoes default style avatar for user Tejas
      If two different parties have different efficiencies, then that is factored into the opportunity cost. Time is part of the cost that is required to produce a certain good or service.

      However, it will not lead to specialization nor will it lead to trade between the parties. In terms of the second good, the opportunity cost will be the same, just not in absolute terms.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Gregory Gzik
    So if both are friendly to trade with one another, what would be the PPF if they collaborated through trade if they both specialized in their comparative advantage? Would it just be the line going from (30,0) to (0,30)?
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Lina Kim
    If a question asks, suggest the terms of trade, how should I answer?
    What is the terms of trade?
    (3 votes)
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  • stelly orange style avatar for user IshaBK
    Hey Sal! That was really interesting, but I have a question....
    Is it necessary that you would always get a financial gain when you are able to accomplish a point anywhere outside the PPF? Because I do not think so. Let's take the dinnerware market, and let's assume that 1 plate costs 1 Rs. and one cup costs 1 Rs too. So if Charlie focused just on making cups, he would earn Rs.30 (At ). If Patty focused just on making plates, she would earn Rs.30 too (At ). And told in the video, let's say that they both are going in for a trade and each will have 15 cups and 15 plates, resulting in Rs.30.
    So if there is no financial gain, then what is the purpose of going outside The Production Possibilities Frontier, in such kind of situations??

    And even if the plates maybe cost more than the cups, would it be possible to expect something of more value to be given in exchange for something of less value. Like if the cups cost Rs.1 and the plates cost Rs.2, Charlie would make a financial income of Rs.30 and Patty would earn Rs.60 (not considering the profit and loss, and assuming ceteris paribus). If at all they decide to go for a trade where you get one cup for one plate, they would each make Rs.45. Of course that would be a gain for Charlie, but would Patty agree to this trade with Rs.15 loss?

    So what's the whole point??
    (3 votes)
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  • male robot hal style avatar for user SpiderBot2099
    ok this lesson is good if u want to find out ur PPF for 2 things, but what about 3 or more?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

Let's now move away from the world of the hunter-gatherer and into the dinnerware market. So let's say we're going to talk about two products -- two types of dinnerware. We'll have cups on this axis, and we will have plates on this axis. And let's say we have a producer, Charlie, and if he were to focus all of his time on cups, he could produce - let me put these [labels]10, 20, 30. So if he were to focus all of his time on cups, he could produce 30 cups, and if he were to focus all of his time on plates, he could produce 10 plates. And we're going to assume he has a linear Production Possibilities Frontier. So, this is what his PPF is going to look like. We draw a little bit, actually connect the 2 dots, so that's.. I want to make it more looking like a line, so that's about as good as I can do. So that right over there is the PPF for Charlie. Now let's think about his opportunity cost. And because this is a linear PPF his opportunity cost does not change. The slope of this line is not changing. It's not that bow-shaped curve that we saw for the hunter gatherer. So it's going to be a fixed opportunity cost for one product relative to the other, at any point along this production possibilities frontier. So let's say we're sitting over here, this will just make things simple to just think about the end points, and he's producing 30 cups, what is his opportunity cost of producing 10 plates? Well to produce 10 plates, he's going to have to give up those 30 cups. So his opportunity cost of producing 10 plates, is equal to 30 cups. Or if you want the opportunity cost for one plate, you just divide both sides by 10, and so you get the opportunity cost of 1 plate, is equal to 3 cups. That's fair enough. Now let's think about the same scenario or let's think about another producer, in this market for dinner ware. Let's call her Patty. If Patty focused all of her time on cups she could produce 10 cups in a day and if she focused all of her time on plates, she could produce 30 plates in a day. So that is.. and she also has a linear production possibilities frontier, so that right over there is the PPF for Patty. And let's think about her opportunity cost for producing a plate. So the opportunity cost, if she's sitting right over here, and she was focused all on cups, and if she wanted to produce 30 plates, and I'm intentionally using the end points to make the math more obvious. If she wanted to produce 30 plates then she would have to give up 10 cups. So her opportunity costs to produce 30 plates is equal to 10 cups. Or if you divide both sides by 30, the opportunity cost of her producing 1 plate, in terms of cups, is 10 divided by 30, is 1/3, 1/3 of a cup. Now this is interesting, we can now compare their relative opportunity costs. The opportunity cost for Charlie to produce a plate is 3 cups, the opportunity cost for Patty to produce a plate is 1/3 of a cup. So for Patty, especially when you measure it in terms of cups, it is cheaper for her to produce a plate. She has a lower opportunity cost than Charlie does in producing plates. So relative to Charlie, we say, because her opportunity cost is lower in producing plates, 1/3 relative to 3, we say that Patty has the comparative advantage in plates, relative to Charlie. And it's not just because she can produce - We'll see situations in maybe the next video where we'll actually show this. It doesn't even have to be the case that she can produce more plates in a given day. This is not why she has a comparative advantage. This is called an absolute advantage, and we'll talk about that more. She has a comparative advantage because her opportunity cost is lower. Her opportunity cost for producing a plate is lower than it is for Charlie. Now let's think about it the other way around. Who has a comparative advantage in cups? Well, if we divide both sides of this right over here by 3, well let's swap both sides, so the opportunity costs for Charlie of producing 3 cups, is equal to 1 plate. Or if you divide both sides by 3, opportunity cost of 1 cup is 1/3 of a plate. If we go to the situation for Patty, let's swap these 2 around, the opportunity cost for 10 cups is 30 plates. If you divide both sides by 10, the opportunity cost of 1 cup is equal to 3 plates. And obviously, and we've talked about this before, the opportunity cost of 1 incremental unit is the same thing as the marginal cost of a cup. But anyway, who has the lower opportunity cost for producing cups? Well, let's see, Charlie can produce a cup, or Charlie's opportunity cost for producing an extra cup is 1/3 of a plate, and Patty's is 3 plates. So Charlie has the lower opportunity cost for producing a cup. So, it's only 1/3 plate relative to 3 plates. So this is where Charlie has the comparative advantage. What we're going to see is if both of these parties specialize in their comparative advantage and then trade, they can get outcomes that are beyond each of their individual production possibility frontiers. So what we can see is, for example, they can get an outcome where they are each able to get 15 cups and 15 plates, which would have been impossible left to their own devices. So let's see how they can actually do it. So we've said that Charlie has a comparative advantage in cups. His opportunity cost of producing a cup is lower than it is for Patty. It's only 1/3 of a plate relative to 3 plates. So let's make him specialize in cups. So cup specialties. So he's going to specialize in cups, and Patty, for the same reason, is going to specialize in plates. So Charlie specializing in cups means he's going to focus only on cups. So he's going to produce 30 cups every day. And Patty specializing in plates means that she's going to produce 30 plates every day. (Let me do this in a different color: magenta). She's going to produce 30 plates every day. Now imagine, I'm going to make an assumption here, but imagine that they both do that but they don't each only want to have what they're producing they want to have some combination of them, so they decide to trade. And I'm going to fix the price here. We're going to talk more about markets in the future. But I assume that they agree to trade at 1 cup for 1 plate. And this makes sense for either of them because this trading price, or this market price, is lower than their opportunity cost. So here's Charlie, he's got all of these cups, left to his own devices, if he wanted an extra plate he would have to spend 3 cups but now in the market, with this price over here, he only has to spend 1 cup for an extra plate. So, this makes sense for him because the market price is lower than his opportunity cost. So he would definitely rather get a plate in the market than have to do it by producing it himself. It‘s cheaper this way. And the same thing for Patty. She has all of these plates, but if she wants a cup, left by herself, she would have to spend 3 plates to do it. She would have to give up 3 plates. But now in the market, she would only have to give up 1 plate. So this is a good deal, this is lower than her opportunity cost. So she'll want to transact. And so they can do, each of them, so for example, Charlie could keep trading cups for plates and he could end up anywhere on this line over there. And Patty could actually do the same thing: she could trade the cups for plates and end up someplace over there. But obviously where they end up is dependent on how much the other one is willing to trade. But let's say that they both want to get to that 15-15 scenario so they can both trade 15 cups to the other person. So Charlie could trade 15 cups for 15 plates and obviously Patty would be trading 15 plates for 15 cups. And they would both be able to get right over there. Which is a situation that was unattainable left to their own production possibilities. So hopefully you found that interesting. By specializing they could get these gains of trade. They specialize in their comparative advantage.