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Europe’s monarchs also hoped to find an all-water route to Asia in order to enhance the power of their states and increase their personal wealth. Countries explored different paths to Asia:
• The Portuguese traveled south along the coast of Africa and then east across the Indian Ocean.
• The Spanish tried to reach Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Mercantilism One important economic idea that motivated the search for a route to the East was mercantilism. This measured the wealth of a country by how much gold and silver it accumulated. Mercantilism developed in 16th-century Europe, particularly England and France, and began to lose supporters in the 18th and 19th centuries. It includes these principles:
• The world’s wealth is like a pie. It is a limited size, and the only way to get a larger share is for another state to get a smaller share. This belief reflected the world as it existed before the 19th century. Life changed very little from one generation to the next, and economic growth was normally slow. In contrast today, people assume that technological change will make the global economic pie larger and larger.
• A country grows wealthier if it has a favorable balance of trade, which means it exports (sells to other countries) more than it imports (buys from other countries). If it does, then it will receive more in payments of gold and silver than it pays out. Today, economists rely less on balance of trade to measure a country’s wealth. A wealthy country might have an unfavorable balance of trade because it can afford to import many goods.
• A colony, or a separate land controlled by a parent country, can enrich the parent country by providing precious metals, crops, and other products. Colonies also served as markets for the parent country’s goods.
Governments that followed mercantilist policies tried to regulate trade to encourage exports, discourage imports, and justify seizing colonies. However, starting in the late 1700s, people began to believe that countries could prosper with fewer restrictions on trade. In particular, consumers benefited by the opportunity to buy less expensive products made in other countries. An ideology of free trade began to replace the belief in mercantilism.
Economic and Political Motives Converge Governments spent money on exploration and trade for a blend of reasons. For example, the French politician Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683) came from a family of merchants. As finance minister for King Louis XIV (see Topic 3.7), he reformed the French tax system to make the country richer and more politically stable. However, another primary reason he wanted France to have strong international trade was to weaken the rival Dutch economically and politically.

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