Rethinking Mercantalism Essay

15042 Words61 Pages
Rethinking Mercantilism: Political Economy, the British Empire, and the Atlantic World in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
Author(s): Steve Pincus
Reviewed work(s):
Source: The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 1 (January 2012), pp. 3-34
Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
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Accessed: 06/09/2012 12:18
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Historians, social scientists, and literary critics have by and large accepted Smith’s notion that there was an early modern period of mercantilist consensus. Most of those scholars have associated this view, at least in part, with the notion that everyone who mattered believed that trade was a zero-sum game. They have assumed that because land and the raw materials derived from it were the ultimate measure of wealth in the early modern period, wealth was necessarily finite. Policy makers operating under these assumptions, we are frequently told, subordinated the interests of the periphery to the imperatives of the metropolitan core. However, these assumptions, at least about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, are untenable. That realization warrants rethinking the origins and contours of British imperial rule and the structure of the Atlantic world.
Adam Smith’s powerful and stadial view of European commercial development stimulated the thinking of classical economists. John Ramsay
McCulloch, James Mill, David Ricardo, Nassau Senior, and a host of others castigated the evils of the mercantile system. But it was in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that scholars in history, imperial

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