For the most part, mainstream economic views in the United States (and most of the developed world, for that matter) can be traced to a long-established line of theory in the history of economic thought.
Adam Smith’s invisible hand. David Ricardo’s views on free trade and comparative advantage. Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. If you’re on the right, you look perhaps to 19th century marginalists or monetarists like Milton Friedman. If you’re on the left, perhaps you look more to John Maynard Keynes and other macroeconomic theories.
But Donald Trump’s view of economics and world trade seems to have its roots, intentionally or unintentionally, in a brand of economic theory that predates Smith and Ricardo — the mercantilist school, which essentially views world trade as a zero-sum exercise. The key to wealth is to maximize your exports, limit your imports and, for good measure, amass as much gold as possible. England’s loss was France’s gain.
Those kind of mercantilist theories are at the heart of Trump’s economic pitch to voters. It was on full display in his victory speech after Trump handily won the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary:
We’re going to beat China, Japan, beat Mexico at trade. We’re going to beat all of these countries that are taking so much of our money away from us on a daily basis. It’s not going to happen anymore.
Sir Thomas Mun, one of the leading lights of mercantilism, wrote something eerily similar in his 1630 tract England’s Treasure By Foreign Trade: Continue reading Trump’s ‘mercantilist’ economic views had their heyday in the 17th century