During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mercantilism was a predominant philosophy, theory, or guide to action in many western countries. Emphasis on measures leading to national wealth was pronounced--in some cases, almost exclusive--and the results for social welfare were marginal programs at best, and anti-welfare programs in some cases. In contradistinction to individual needs or aspirations, considerations of national wealth and power were paramount to the point that, in Britain at least, it seemed that here was "nothing to fight for, nothing to support, nothing to augment but.. .commerce." Whether national wealth was seen as leading to national iower, or whether power was a means for acquiring wealth, concerns for the national economy, seen as the ultimate good, "came more and more- to recommend amoral means to amoral ends." This general mercantilist conception of society led statesmen to even greater ruthlessness than would have been possible without such a conception, and as a result mercantilism not only ignored individuals, but in some cases was actually linked to the destruction of the central machinery of welfare. Rarely has the drive for national wealth, as distinct from national welfare, predominated to the extent that it did during the ascendancy of mercantilism.

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