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How John Locke and Thomas Mun's Theories on International Trade Has Contributed to Today's Global Economy

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Mercantilism: Un-Locke-ing the Mun-dane

Prominent English writer Thomas Mun was an early, yet influential mercantilist. Spanning the sixteenth through much of the eighteenth century, mercantilism influenced trade through the idea that a nation must protect its wealth by exporting more than it imports. This would guard the nation’s gold and silver holdings, much desired by monarchs and nobles.

In his work England’s Treasure by Foreign Trade, Mun advocated for traders, stating one much accumulate gold by expanding international trade volume, as there is no other means to treasure. To do this, one must export more than one imports. Mun elaborated on many specific mercantilist policies. Mun desired unused land to be put into production, England to stop consuming foreign luxuries which caused outflows of gold and silver, and the assessment of what other nations wanted, so those wants could be fulfilled through distant trade and via a high price. This would net England income in the form of gold and silver. However, this price could not be arbitrary: Mun states that it must be low enough to garner the most revenue, and careful attention must be paid not only to quality, but the competition as well. Mun also promotes taxing imports (but not exports, or re-exported imports), the use of English ships, and the fishing of England’s waters, as he encourages employment of all domestic resources via domestic production.

One feature in particular that Mun advocated was the building of common port facilities, which would help streamline international trade processes. The extremely influential English philosopher John Locke discusses the firm foundation for a labor theory of value in his 1690 work, Of Civil Government. His idea was that when labor is applied to things, especially land, they become useful and valuable. When England’s enclosure movement made its mark on history in the eighteenth century, it helped transform feudalism into an emerging-market system. The land was thought of a way to earn wealth and supplemental resources through capitalism within commodity trade, not just a useful means of survival. This also proved opportunistic for peasants and serfs to earn wages on their labor, adding additional value to land, and to common port facilities in this case.

Locke would say that the labor is extremely important for the value of these common port facilities, but modern economists would stress the framework of private property rights for this to be feasible, since the classic sentiment was that one could not just own a piece of common land that was to be beneficial to all. Obviously, that sentiment has proved obsolete today, however private property rights and the international trade theories of Mun and Locke have massively shaped the modern global economy.

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