Monday, March 2, 2015


I'm posting what's below because I like the artwork. Since it's focused on life events surrounding France's Louis XIV (1638-1715) I've included some background, which also provides us with an idea of what the mercantilist era looked like. The excerpt is drawn from chapter 6 of my book, The Myth of the Free Market.


A young Louis XIV at Versailles.

Throughout European history no monarch stands as tall as France’s King Louis XIV (1638-1715). Forced into the countryside as a young boy by the Wars of the Fronde, the Sun King grew to abhor disorder and uncertainty. Upon consolidating his personal authority at age nineteen – he had been king since age five – Louis XIV began centralizing state power.

But organizing and funding a seventeenth century state and its military was hampered by the chaos and costs associated with feudal habits, corrupt contractors, and crooked merchants, whose actions limited the king’s tax base. Louis XIV understood this and moved to professionalize and modernize France’s bureaucracy and economy.

This would have a ripple effect that would transform European state relations.

Jean Baptiste Colbert presents members 
of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV, 1667.
To achieve his goals the Sun King looked to Jean Baptiste Colbert, who had an instinct for public policy. By subsidizing industries, negotiating treaties, raising tariffs to protect industry, and keeping private contractor corruption to a minimum, Colbert brought prosperity to France.

Because of Colbert’s policies France professionalized its military by standardizing uniforms, improve training protocols, and by offering better provisions. While Colbert’s emphasis on negotiation and commercial treaties led many to label him a Man of Peace, his aggressive trade and tariff policies irked neighbors and competitors alike.

In the process – and ironically – Colbert created “more enemies for France” than Louis XIV ever made with the sword. These dynamics, as Charles Tilly noted, created a powerful state which compelled others to pursue trade, adventure, and resources in ways that fostered European mercantilism.

The Persian embassy to Louis XIV.
Viewing the world in zero-sum terms – i.e. what you gain, I lose – conflict between European states rose to new levels as they competed for territory and markets throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

As evidence, while France appeared undisturbed by fortresses built in the Spanish Netherlands along its northern borders (part of present day Belgium and Luxembourg) Colbert became concerned when Dutch and Flemish merchants in the region retaliated against his commercial policies. This convinced Colbert war was necessary. While conflict between France and Spain settled little  it raised concerns throughout Europe.

And with reason – Louis XIV had his eyes on Holland.

Four Day Battle in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
In addition to opposing Holland’s democratic ideas, and Protestantism, the Dutch were prosperous and major commercial rivals. To solidify his military position the Sun King sought out the British as allies, who had their own reasons for fighting.

On the eve of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667) British Admiral George Monk considered the motives, and  noted rather bluntly “What matters ‘this’ or ‘that’ reason? What we want is more of the trade which the Dutch now have.”

- Mark

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