Why Is Mercantilism Important in World History?

Mercantilism is a term that refers to the economic theory and practice that dominated the Western European nations from the 16th to the 18th century. It is an important concept in world history because it played a significant role in shaping the economic policies of many nations that emerged during this period. In this article, we will explore why mercantilism is important in world history.

The Origins of Mercantilism

The origins of mercantilism can be traced back to the emergence of nation-states in Europe during the 16th century. These nation-states were looking for ways to expand their power and wealth, and they saw trade as a means to achieve this goal. Mercantilist thinkers believed that a nation’s wealth was measured by its stock of precious metals, such as gold and silver, which were used as currency.

Key Features of Mercantilism

One of the key features of mercantilism was protectionism. Mercantilist nations believed in protecting their domestic industries from foreign competition by imposing tariffs and other trade barriers. This allowed them to build up their own industries and reduce their reliance on imports.

Another feature of mercantilism was colonialism. European powers established colonies around the world as sources of raw materials and markets for their manufactured goods. This enabled them to control trade routes and dominate global commerce.

The Legacy of Mercantilism

The legacy of mercantilism can still be seen today in many aspects of international trade policy. The idea that a nation’s wealth is based on its stockpile of precious metals has been replaced by more modern measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP). However, protectionist policies are still used by some countries today to shield domestic industries from foreign competition.

Colonialism also had a lasting impact on the world economy. Many former colonies are still struggling to recover from the economic exploitation they suffered under mercantilist policies. In addition, the unequal distribution of wealth and power that resulted from colonialism continues to shape global politics today.


In conclusion, mercantilism is an important concept in world history because it played a significant role in shaping the economic policies of many nations. Its emphasis on protectionism and colonialism helped build up powerful nation-states in Europe, but also created economic and political inequalities that persist to this day. Understanding the legacy of mercantilism is essential for understanding the current state of the global economy and international relations.