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Mercantilism, Laura LaHaye
3 paragraphs found.
 

Mercantilism is economic nationalism for the purpose of building a wealthy and powerful state. Adam Smith coined the term “mercantile system” to describe the system of political economy that sought to enrich the country by restraining imports and encouraging exports. This system dominated Western European economic thought and policies from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. The goal of these policies was, supposedly, to achieve a “favorable” balance of trade that would bring gold and silver into the country and also to maintain domestic employment. In contrast to the agricultural system of the physiocrats or the laissez-faire of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the mercantile system served the interests of merchants and producers such as the British East India Company, whose activities were protected or encouraged by the state.

 

During the mercantilist era it was often suggested, if not actually believed, that the principal benefit of foreign trade was the importation of gold and silver. According to this view the benefits to one nation were matched by costs to the other nations that exported gold and silver, and there were no net gains from trade. For nations almost constantly on the verge of war, draining one another of valuable gold and silver was thought to be almost as desirable as the direct benefits of trade. Adam Smith refuted the idea that the wealth of a nation is measured by the size of the treasury in his famous treatise The Wealth of Nations, a book considered to be the foundation of modern economic theory. Smith made a number of important criticisms of mercantilist doctrine. First, he demonstrated that trade, when freely initiated, benefits both parties. Second, he argued that specialization in production allows for economies of scale, which improves efficiency and growth. Finally, Smith argued that the collusive relationship between government and industry was harmful to the general population. While the mercantilist policies were designed to benefit the government and the commercial class, the doctrines of laissez-faire, or free markets, which originated with Smith, interpreted economic welfare in a far wider sense of encompassing the entire population.

 

While the publication of The Wealth of Nations is generally considered to mark the end of the mercantilist era, the laissez-faire doctrines of free-market economics also reflect a general disenchantment with the imperialist policies of nation-states. The Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the Revolutionary War in the United States heralded the end of the period of military confrontation in Europe and the mercantilist policies that supported it.