the attempt to increase national wealth by building up a huge trade surplus, by exporting more than the country imports.
A once-prominent economic philosophy that equated national wealth and prowess with the accumulation of gold and other international monetary assets, and hence with running a persistent trade surplus. The mercantilist viewpoint has been discredited by modem economics, which has shown that national economic security and well-being are not necessarily related one way or another with trade surpluses or deficits (see discussion under trade balance). Nonetheless, mercantilist ideas continue to exert a powerful political hold in many countries, leading to demands for policies --such as tariff protection for domestic industries as well as export subsidies --designed to foster trade surpluses as keys to national economic strength. Since all countries cannot run .trade surpluses simultaneously, widespread pursuit of mercantilist policies tends to produce an unstable and conflict-ridden international trading system.
An economic philosophy of the 16th and 17th centuries that international commerce should primarily serve to increase a country's financial wealth, especially of gold and foreign currency. To that end, exports are viewed as desirable and imports as undesirable unless they lead to even greater exports.