Mercantilism is a strange being with an awkward past. The concept ironically owes a far greater debt to its foremost critic, Adam Smith, than to any of its supposed advocates. And, while most recent scholarship agrees that the Wealth of Nations painted a deceptively coherent portrait of 17th-century political economy and the commercial regulations these ideas supposedly engendered, Smith’s interpretation of a “mercantile system” has survived, informing the way we conceive both of early modern history as well as the nature of modern economy and politics.
This conference continues the discussion of recent contributions to the study of mercantilism in its traditional context and period. In addition, it seeks to explore how the notion of “mercantilism” itself has shaped not only our understanding of the early modern era but the political and economic cultures of the modern world, from Smith to Keynes.