International Trade Theories

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International Trade Theories

Mercantilism Mercantilism was a sixteenth-century economic philosophy that maintained that a country's wealth was measured by its holdings of gold and silver (Mahoney, Trigg, Griffin, & Pustay, 1998). This recquired the countries to maximise the difference between its exports and imports by promoting exports and discouraging imports. The logic was transparent to sixteenth-century policy makers-if foreigners buy more goods from you than you buy from them, then the foreigners have to pay you the difference in gold and silver, enabling you to amass more treasure. With the treasure acquired the realm could build greater armies and navies and hence expand the nation’s global influence. Politically, mercantilism was popular with many manufactures and their workers. Export-oriented manufacturers favoured mercantilist trade policies, such as those giving subsidies or tax rebates, which stimulated their sales to foreigners. Domestic manufacturers threatened by foreign imports endorsed mercantilist trade policies, such as those imposing tariffs or quotas, which protected them from foreign competition (Mahoney, Trigg, Griffin, & Pustay, 1998). Most members of society are hurt by such policies. Government subsidies of exports for selected industries are paid for by taxpayers. Mercantilist terminology is still used today, an example when television commentators and newspaper headlines report that a country suffered an ‘unfavourable’ balance of trade-that is, its exports were less than its imports. Mercantilist policies are still politically attractive to some firms and their workers, as mercantilism benefits certain members of society. Modern supporters of these policies are known as neo-mercantilists, or protectionists (Mahoney, Trigg, Griffin, & Pustay, 1998). The mercantilists were a group of economists who preceded Adam Smith. They judged the success of trade by the size of the trade balance (Lipsey, & Chrystal, 1996). Absolute Advantage The theory of absolute advantage, suggests that a country should export those goods and services for which it is more productive than other countries, and import those goods and services for which other countries are more productive than it is (Mahoney, Trigg, Griffin, & Pustay, 1998). Adam Smith was the first to come up with the theory of absolute advantage. According to Adam Smith, mercantilism’s basic problem is that it confuses the acquisition of treasure with the acquisition of wealth. In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith attacked the intellectual basis of mercantilism and demonstrated that mercantilism actually weakens a country. Smith maintained that a country’s true wealth is measured by the wealth of all its citizens, not just that of its monarch (Mahoney, Trigg, Griffin, & Pustay, 1998). A country is said to be more productive than another country, if it can produce more output (goods) for a given quantity of input, such as labour or energy inputs. An example is that there are only two countries, Australia and Japan. They both produce computers and wine, and only one factor of production, labour. Japan produces 6 computers for every 1 bottle of wine, where as Australia produces only 4 computers for every 3 bottles of wine. This suggests that Australia should export some of its wine to Japan, and Japan should export some of its computers to Australia. Australia has an absolute advantage over Japan, when producing wine, and Japan has an absolute advantage over Australia, when producing computers (Gandolfo, 1998). Economists use the term absolute advantage when comparing the productivity of one person, firm or nation with that of another. The producer that requires a smaller quantity of inputs to produce a good is said to have an absolute advantage in producing that good (Gans, King, & Mankiw, 1999). Comparative Advantage The theory of comparative advantage, states that a country should produce and export those goods...
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