Did Europe's Mercantilist Empires Pay?

Trade may have followed the flag, but was there enough stimulus in imperialism to aid national bank balances and development from 1500 onwards? Patrick O'Brien sifts the evidence.

European imperialism or the direct intrusion of power into the political, economic and social affairs of other peoples and other continents is represented in a history which goes back five centuries to the voyages of discovery and which is now almost at an end. That experience can be periodised into four phases: the long era of mercantilism, 1492-1846; the brief period of free trade which is symbolised by Britain’s repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and which lasted down to the Great War; neo-mercantilism which marked the inter-war years; and the final phase of decolonisation and retreat from empire after 1945.

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