How was trade viewed through mercantilist eyes?

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Trade was viewed through mercantilist eyes as something that was a zero-sum game.  In this game, those who exported more than they imported won while those who imported more than they exported lost.  Trade was only good for a country if it could export more than it imported.

In mercantilist times, people believed that a country could only benefit from trade if it exported more than it imported.  If it did so, it would gain more precious metals.  If, for example, Britain sold goods to France, the French would have to give the British gold or silver in payment for the goods.  This would increase the British stocks of those metals, making Britain richer. 

In these times, people also believed (much as some people believe today) that a favorable trade balance would keep domestic employment high.  If a country exported a lot of goods, domestic workers would have jobs making those goods.  If a country imported goods, it would lose employment because it would be buying the goods from abroad instead of having them made at home.

For these reasons, trade was not seen as a good thing in all circumstances.  Instead, it was only good if you could manage to export more than you imported.

 

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