Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 13, 2018

in History, Trade

… is from page 109 of Jacob Viner’s remarkable 1937 volume, Studies in the Theory of International Trade:

In many respects, indeed, as the mercantilist argument became more elaborate and involved, it became more objectionable from the point of view of modern doctrine, and, except with reference to the bullionist doctrines, a strong argument could be presented in defense of the thesis that the mass of ordinary tracts on trade in the fist half of the eighteenth century show a more extreme and confused adherence to the fallacies of mercantilism than did the writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The simplicity and brevity of the early analysis as least resulted in fallacies of comparable simplicity, but the latter writers were able to assemble a greater variety of fallacies into an elaborate system of confused and self-contradictory argument.

DBx: And so matters remain today.  Any doctrine grounded on false premises – such as, in the case of mercantilism, that a people’s prosperity increases the more money their country collectively receives from foreigners, and decreases the more money the people of the country collectively spend on imports that could be produced at home at higher costs – is destined to grow ever-more elaborately contorted and confused as that doctrine’s adherents and apologists persist in the impossible task of rendering the false premises true.

(Pictured above is James Steuart [1707-1780] a thorough-going mercantilist who, although a contemporary in life of David Hume and Adam Smith, espoused and gussied-up an antediluvian doctrine that Hume and Smith so thoroughly exposed as a mass of contradictions and confusions.)

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