It Was All About the King   Leave a comment

In the mercantilist conception of the nation-state and society in general, it was taken for granted that the king’s government had both the right and responsibility to control and direct the economic activities of the sovereign’s subjects. The lands and the people in these countries were viewed as the property of the king to use and dispose of in any manner that he considered most beneficial to his interests.

If the monarch took any interest in the most immediate well-being of his subjects, it was only as a necessary means to the end of his own betterment.

Antoine de Montchrestien (1575-1621) expressed this understanding in a book addressed to the king and queen of France in which he warned of the danger of permitting foreign sellers to compete in the French market:

First of all, I point out to your Majesties that all the implements, the manufacturing of which you are in charge, both in and out of the kingdom, not only in cities but in entire provinces, can be made abundantly and at a very good price in your Lordship’s country.

And further, that allowing in and receiving foreign-made goods here means to take away the life of the several thousands of your subjects to whom this industry is an inheritance and the source of their income; it means reducing your own wealth which derives from and increases through the wealth of the people.” Antoine de Montchrestien (1575-1621), A Treatise on Political Economy (1615)

Image result for image of divine right of kingsMontchrestien offered a conclusion to the monarchs: “Let us, therefore, relish in the fruits of our own labor, that is to say, let us rely on ourselves.”

The mercantilist theorists of the day saw trade with other countries as a cause of national disaster that would cause job losses and falling incomes. International trade was seen to undermine the commercial traditions of the people and believed to reduce , and it reduced the income and wealth of the government by lowering tax revenues.

Mercantilists acknowledged some benefits of trade, but only if the value of the goods imported from other countries was minimized and the value of goods exported to other countries was maximized. Of course the mercantilists argued for the government to control and direct foreign trade to assure a “positive” balance of trade. (This sounds so much like Trump’s economic policies, by the way).

Thomas Mun (1571-1641) articulated this idea in his posthumously published work,England’s Treasure by Foreign Trade (1628):

“Although a Kingdom may be enriched by gifts received or by purchase taken from some other Nations, yet these are things uncertain and of small consideration when they happen. The ordinary means therefore to increase our wealth and treasure is by foreign trade, wherein we must ever observe the rule; to sell more to strangers yearly than we consume of theirs in value.

“For suppose that when this Kingdom is plentifully served with Cloth, Lead, Tin, Iron, Fish and other native commodities, we do yearly export the [surplus] to foreign countries to the value of twenty two hundred thousand pounds; by which means we are enabled beyond the Seas to buy and bring in foreign wares for our use and consumptions, to the value of twenty hundred thousand pounds;

“By this order duly kept in our trading, we must rest assured that the Kingdom shall be enriched yearly two hundred thousand pounds, which must be brought back to us in so much Treasure; because that part of our stock which is not returned to use in wares must necessarily be brought home in treasure.” Thomas Mun (1571-1641), England’s Treasure by Foreign Trade (1628)

The mercantilists saw money, in the form of gold and silver, as the greatest and most valuable form of “treasure” (wealth). With a large “war chest” of gold and silver, the monarch would be able to acquire, at home and abroad, all the real goods and services that might ever be needed to win in the conflicts and combats among the nations of the world that the mercantilists considered inevitable and inescapable if a country was going to survive on the international political stage.

“A King who desires to lay up much money must endeavor by all good means to maintain and increase his foreign trade, because it is the sole way not only to lead him to his own ends, but also to enrich his Subjects to his farther benefit …

“The Gain of their foreign trade must be the rule of laying up their treasure, which although it should not be much yearly, yet in the time of a long continued peace, and being well manage to advantage, it will become a great sum of money, able to make a long defense, which may end or divert a war.” Mun

Mercantilist societies sought to be as self-sufficient as possible. If imports were needed, they wanted to limit them to raw materials that could be worked up into manufactured goods at home. It was believed this would stimulate domestic employment, meet certain national economic needs, and have a greater value for re-export so to acquire a net inflow of gold and silver to add to the King’s “treasure.”

My fantasy series does not completely align itself to medieval European history and economic systems. My Celts have been gone from Europe for a thousand years and so have developed some other systems. Mercantilism is not found in Celdrya, the primary society in the series. However, neighboring nations may practice a form of it.

 

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Posted October 31, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in History

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