Colbertism is an economic and political doctrine of the seventeenth century, created by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French minister of finance under Louis XIV. Colbertism is a variant of mercantilism and is more a collection of economical practices than a true current of economic thought.

Principal Characteristics

Colbert's central principle was that the wealth and the economy of France should serve the state. Drawing on the ideas of mercantilism, he believed state intervention was needed to secure the largest part of limited resources. To accumulate gold, a country always had to sell more goods abroad than it bought. Colbert sought to build a French economy that sold abroad and bought domestically.


In the 17th century, European powers had already successfully colonized some part of the world. England had a successful hold on North America and various other areas, including India, Spain had a large hold of South America and North America, and the Dutch had successful outposts in India. The French were beginning to colonize parts of North America, but did not have permanent settlements like the Spanish and British colonies.

In 1628, Quebec became controlled by the Company of One Hundred Associates, a merchant-run join-stock enterprise founded by Cardinal Richelieu. The Company received a monopoly over fur trade, and title to all the lands in New France, in trade for 4,000 settlers to the new colony, as well as supplies and priests. Like all other colonies, French influence in the New World led to problems with the natives: war for control of the fur trade and French disease killed off large portions of Indian tribes.

France not only had colonies North America, but also controlled the French West Indies, in the Caribbean Sea. During the 17th century, France colonized several of the West Indian Islands because of competition with the Spanish, English, and Dutch. Despite controlling very many of the West Indian Islands, only Martinique, Guadeloupe, and some nearby small islands survived as the French West Indies.

Quite surprisingly, the idea of mercantilism was first described by the French finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Colbert's idea was a "favorable balance of trade" in which goods were exported for gold, versus an "unfavorable balance of trade" in which gold would flow out of the country. Colbert also intended to get rid of internal tariffs, and to tax the nobility, but failed.

See also

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