El nuevo desafío mercantilista

CAMBRIDGE – La historia de la economía es en gran medida una lucha entre dos escuelas de pensamiento opuestas, el «liberalismo» y el «mercantilismo». El liberalismo económico, con su énfasis en los emprendimientos privados y el libre mercado es la doctrina dominante actual. Pero su victoria intelectual nos ha cegado respecto del gran atractivo –y frecuente éxito– de las prácticas mercantilistas. De hecho, el mercantilismo sigue vivo y goza de buena salud, y su continuo conflicto con el liberalismo probablemente será una importante fuerza que influirá sobre el futuro de la economía.

Actualmente se desecha por lo general al mercantilismo como un conjunto arcaico y patentemente equivocado de ideas de política económica. Y, en su apogeo, los mercantilistas ciertamente defendieron algunas nociones bastante extrañas, entre las cuales la más notoria era que la política nacional debía guiarse por la acumulación de metales preciosos: oro y plata.

El tratado de Adam Smith de 1776, La riqueza de las naciones, demolió hábilmente muchas de esas ideas. Smith demostró, en especial, que no debe confundirse al dinero con la riqueza. Según él, «la riqueza de un país no está constituida solamente por su oro y su plata, sino por sus tierras, viviendas y bienes de consumo de todo tipo».

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