Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on April 4, 2019

in Adam Smith, Man of System, Myths and Fallacies, Trade

… is from pages 663-664 of Book IV, Chapter ix of the 1981 Liberty Fund edition of Adam Smith’s magisterial 1776 book, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (link added; pictured here is Colbert):

Mr. [Jean-Baptiste] Colbert, the famous minister of Lewis XIV. was a man of probity, of great industry and knowledge of detail, of great experience and acuteness in the examination of public accounts, and of abilities, in short, every way fitted for introducing method and good order into the collection and expenditure of the public revenue. That minister had unfortunately embraced all the prejudices of the mercantile system, in its nature and essence a system of restraint and regulation, and such as could scarce fail to be agreeable to a laborious and plodding man of business, who had been accustomed to regulate the different departments of public offices, and to establish the necessary checks and controls for confining each to its proper sphere. The industry and commerce of a great country he endeavoured to regulate upon the same model as the departments of a public office; and instead of allowing every man to pursue his own interest in his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice, he bestowed upon certain branches of industry extraordinary privileges, while he laid others under as extraordinary restraints.

DBx: As this passage from Smith suggests, mercantilism is inherently hostile to free markets. If you are a mercantilist, you therefore are not a champion of free markets. Your skepticism of trade freely conducted across political boundaries should lead you – were you consistent – to be equally skeptical of trade freely conducted exclusively within political boundaries.

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