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… is from pages 266-267 of Jacob Viner‘s 1968 International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences article, “Mercantilist Thought,” as this article is reprinted in the 1991 collection, edited by Douglas Irwin, Jacob Viner: Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics: The implicit mercantilist ideal was zero import, and export only in exchange for precious metals. In France, Colbert and others gave this ideal express formulation in replying to objections raised by Frenchmen that the severity of French import restrictions would result in other countries’ prohibiting entry of French products. Colbert claims that France alone had the potentiality to produce at home the whole range of commodities essential to national prosperity, whereas none of its neighbors could dispense with France’s

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… is from pages 266-267 of Jacob Viner‘s 1968 International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences article, “Mercantilist Thought,” as this article is reprinted in the 1991 collection, edited by Douglas Irwin, Jacob Viner: Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics:

Quotation of the Day…The implicit mercantilist ideal was zero import, and export only in exchange for precious metals. In France, Colbert and others gave this ideal express formulation in replying to objections raised by Frenchmen that the severity of French import restrictions would result in other countries’ prohibiting entry of French products. Colbert claims that France alone had the potentiality to produce at home the whole range of commodities essential to national prosperity, whereas none of its neighbors could dispense with France’s commodities.

DBx: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Trump is motivated by largely the same set of economically mistaken notions that motivated the most famous mercantilist state official of the 17th century: Jean-Baptiste Colbert. The mind of Trump, like that of Colbert, is a nest of mercantilist fallacies and superstitions, such as that a nation grows wealthier the more it exports relative to the amount that it imports – that nations compete against each other economically – that the maximum possible accumulation of money in the home country is, or ought to be, the objective of trade policy – that (therefore) so-called “trade deficits” are bad and “trade surpluses” are good – that to ensure maximum possible exports relative to imports the state is duty-bound to prevent ordinary people from dealing commercially on their own individually chosen terms with foreigners – and, oh oui!, that for big, rich countries trade wars are easy to win.

(It’s more than passing strange that the premier economic dogma of Trumpian populists has as its greatest historical practitioner a French baron who served for 22 years as the Chief Minister of State for the Sun King.)

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Don Boudreaux
He is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Previously, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

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