… is from page 16 of Doug Irwin’s excellent Introduction to the 1991 collection, that he edited, of some of Jacob Viner‘s papers: Jacob Viner: Essays on the Intellectual History of Economics:
Mercantilism emerged with the rise of the nation-state and owed little to theological doctrines of economics, except perhaps the zero-sum view of the gains from trade.
DBx: When confronted with clear explanations of the implications of their arguments, mercantilists typically deny that they believe that economic reality is zero-sum. Yet when faced with the choice of abandoning their mistaken view of the world or sticking to it, they stick to that view of the world in which economic reality is seen as zero-sum.
Once again, those of us who argue against mercantilists cannot, even if we wished to do so, wrongly portray mercantilism as a straw-man: mercantilism is a straw-man by its very nature. What else do you call a doctrine that has at its core the conviction that a people become wealthier when their government artificially reduces the supplies of goods and services to which they have access, and that these same people become poorer when their government allows them access to a greater abundance of goods and services? This wacky conviction is impossible to straw-man.