An economic doctrine that flourished in Europe from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Mercantilists held that a nation's wealth consisted primarily in the amount of gold and silver in its treasury. Accordingly, mercantilist governments imposed extensive restrictions on their economies to ensure a surplus of exports over imports. In the eighteenth century, mercantilism was challenged by the doctrine of laissez-faire. (See also Adam Smith.)
Note: The European quest for colonial holdings in Asia, Africa, and North and South America was partially a product of mercantile economics.