What was mercantilism and how did it work?

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Mercantilism is an economic theory that the prosperity of a nation depends upon its capital, and that the volume of the world economy and international trade is unchangeable. Government economic policy based on these ideas is also sometimes called mercantilism, but is more properly known as the mercantile system. Some scholars conceive the mercantile system as a subset of, or synonymous with, the early stages of capitalism, while others consider mercantilism to be a distinct economic system.

Economic assets, or capital, are represented by bullion (gold, silver, and trade value) held by the state, which is best increased through a positive balance of trade with other nations (exports minus imports). Mercantilism suggests that the ruling government should advance these goals by playing a protectionist role in the economy, by encouraging exports and discouraging imports, especially through the use of tariffs.

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