Essay on English Mercantilists during the commercial revolution in Western Europe

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The English mercantilists included Sir Thomas Mun (1571-1641), Charles Davenant (1655-1714), Sir James Stuart (1712- 80), Sir William Petty (1623-87), Sir Dudely North (1641-91), Sir Josiah Child (1630-99), John Locke (1632-1704) etc.

The best representative of the English mercantilists was Sir Thomas Mun. In his book England’s Treasure by Foreign Trade published in 1630 Mun emphasized the need of regulating the foreign trade of the country to secure a favourable balance of trade. He was not in favour of placing restrictions on the export of the bullion.

Instead he wanted to increase the wealth by selling more to strangers than the value of goods purcahsed from them. Therefore, he favoured imposition of heavy duties on imports meant for home consump­tion and moderate goods purchased from them. To curtail the import of commodities like tobacco, hemp, flax etc. he pleaded for the cultivation of the waste lands.

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He wanted the people to refrain from excessive con­sumption of foreign goods. For the supply of English goods to other countries he favoured the use of English ships and naturally laid emphasis on the development of England’s trade with far off countries.

Charles Davenant wrote two books Essay on East India Trade and Essays on the Probable Means of Making People Gainers in the Balance of Trade in which he pleaded for imposition of restrictions on imports and encouragement of exports. He held that a large population fully employed at subsistence level of wages would help to increase the national wealth. Sir James Stuart’s book An Enquiry into the Principles of Political Economy also permeated mercantilist reasoning throughout.

Sir William Petty wrote a number of books the chief among them being Discourses on Political Arithmatic, and A Treasure of Taxes and Contributions, Political Autonomy of Irland Quantulumcunque Concerning Money. He held that taxes were inevitable for national wealth. He emphasized the importance of labour and asserted the labour is the father and active principle of wealth, as land was the mother. Though his writing was not systematic he dealt with theories of rent, population, value, money, capital and production.

Sir Dudely North made a plea for free trade and criticized England for pursu­ing a restrictionist policy of trade with France. He also emphasized the importance of the domestic trade for the development of foreign trade. Sir Josiah Child, the author of Discourse of Trade was another ardent advocate of free trade.

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He insisted on the need of low rates of interests for the promotion of national prosperity. John Locke emphasized the subjective element of money in his book Consequence of the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Money. He also put forward quite ad­vanced ideas on international trade.

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