16 Mar, 2023 330 Economics

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europe was dominated by an economic way of thinking called mercantilism. The key idea was that exports should be as high as possible and imports minimised. For more than 300 years, almost every ruler and political thinker was a mercantilist. Eventually, economists including Adam Smith, in his ground-breaking work of 1776 The Wealth of Nations, declared that mercantilism was a flawed concept and it became discredited. However, a mercantilist economic approach can still be found in modern times and today’s politicians sometimes still use rhetoric related to mercantilism.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • D'Maris Coffman No other episodes
    Professor in Economics and Finance of the Built Environment at University College London
  • Craig Muldrew No other episodes
    Professor of Social and Economic History at the University of Cambridge and a Member of Queens' College
  • Helen Paul 8 episodes
    Lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Southampton

Reading list

  • The Atlantic World
    D'Maris Coffman, Adrian Leonard and William O'Reilly (eds.) (Routledge, 2019) Google Books →
  • Revisions in Mercantilism
    D. C. Coleman (Methuen, 1969) Google Books →
  • Great Economic Thinkers
    Jonathan Conlin (ed.) (Reaktion Books, 2018) Google Books →
  • The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company
    William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2020) Google Books →
  • The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution
    Oliver M. Dickerson (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1951) Google Books →
  • Mercantilism
    Eli Heckscher (Routledge, 1994) Google Books →
  • A Short History of Mercantilism
    J. W. Horrocks (Routledge, 2017) Google Books →
  • Before Adam Smith: The Emergence of Political Economy, 1662-1776
    Terence Hutchison (Wiley-Blackwell, 1988) Google Books →
  • Mercantilism: The Shaping of an Economic Language
    Lars Magnusson (Routledge, 2015) Google Books →
  • The Political Economy of Mercantilism
    Lars Magnusson (Routledge, 2015) Google Books →
  • Freedom and Capitalism in Early Modern Europe: Mercantilism and the Making of the Modern Economic Mind
    Philipp Robinson Rossner (Palgrave Pivot, 2020) Google Books →
  • A History of Economic Thought
    Eric Roll (Faber & Faber, 2002) Google Books →
  • The Palgrave Handbook of Political Economy
    Ivano Cardinale and Roberto Scazzieri (eds) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) Google Books →
  • Free Market: The History of an Idea
    Jacob Soll (Basic Books, 2022) Google Books →
  • Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire
    Philip J. Stern and Carl Wennerlind (eds.) (Oxford University Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • Mercantilism and the East India Trade
    P. J. Thomas (Routledge, 2020) Google Books →
  • Taming Capitalism before its Triumph: Public Service, Distrust, and 'Projecting' in Early Modern England
    Koji Yamamoto (Oxford University Press, 2021) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: m001k0zv

Episode page:

Auto-category: 330 (Economics)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Europe was dominated by an economic way of thinking called mercantilism.