Mercantilism and the Rise of the West: Towards a Geography of Mercantilism

36 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2012

See all articles by Clint Ballinger

Clint Ballinger

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: January 1, 2011


It has become common to note the failure of neoclassical economics to explain economic divergence between countries and regions. In recent years this has frequently been attributed to some countries developing or capturing industries with increasing returns; i.e. that the agglomeration effects typical of increasing returns industries are sensitive to slight differences in initial conditions that over time lead to further agglomeration and thus increasing divergence rather than convergence between regions and countries (Romer 1986, Krugman and Venables 1995, Fujita and Thisse 2002).

Just as the lack of short-term convergence among modern economies can be attributed to the capturing of increasing returns-to-scale activities, many believe Europe (and its settler colonies) did this on a long-term, global scale as well, in a global division of labor at the state and regional level. In the economic history literature this process is sometimes explained in other language, i.e., that Europe deindustrialized its colonies e.g., in dependency theory in general, and works such as Amin 1976, Forbes and Rimmer 1984, and Alam 2000. This long-term, increasing returns perspective is interesting because it can be seen as (regarding reasons proposed for the ‘great divergence’ in levels of development that economic historians now tell us happened mainly in the last few centuries) merging or at least compatible with both many recent mainstream economic observations related to regional economics, agglomeration, and increasing returns-to-scale activities (‘new’ trade theory) and aspects of important heterodox arguments (Marxist/dependency theories, some Austrian economics, and much evolutionary economics - related to competition, for example). How, then, did European states rise in the international division of labor?

Keywords: mercantilism, economic development, international development, trade policy, Africa, Asia, institutions, macrohistory, acemoglu, reversal of fortune

JEL Classification: A10, N10, N4, O1, O13, P50, R10, R11

Suggested Citation

Ballinger, Clint, Mercantilism and the Rise of the West: Towards a Geography of Mercantilism (January 1, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Clint Ballinger (Contact Author)

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