What Is Mercantilism?

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Yojana_Thapa | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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  • Economic philosophy of Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • Sought to increase power and wealth by obtaining large amounts of gold and silver and by establishing a favorable balance of trade with its colonies
  • Colonists were expected to export raw materials and import finished good
  • Policy of mercantilism adopted by Great Britain was to improve and strengthen the economy of the mother country
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fact-finder | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Mercantilism, an economic system that stresses the goals of the national government rather than the individual, developed in Europe as the feudal system (a social system based on strict class structures) declined at the end of the Middle Ages (c. 450–c. 1500). Mercantilism was the main economic system in Europe during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. This system required the national government to strictly control businesses to meet certain objectives, such as exporting (selling) more goods to other countries than importing (buying) goods from other countries. Within a country, trade barriers (such as taxes) were dropped. According to mercantilist philosophy, exploiting the natural resources of a nation's colonies was a worthwhile effort.

Further Information: Marshall, Michael. "From Mercantilism to The Wealth of Nations." World and I. May, 1999, p. 18; "Mercantilism." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/08340.html, October 30, 2000; "Mercantilism." Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] Available http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/8/0,5716,53378+1+52075,00.html, October 30, 2000.

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