ABSTRACT

In the early mercantilist period, most production was carried on by workers who still owned and controlled their own means of production. Capitalists were primarily merchants, and their capital consisted mostly of money and inventories of goods to be sold. It was only natural, therefore, that mercantilist writers looked to exchange, or buying and selling, as the source of profits. These profits were, of course, exchanged for commodities that constituted a portion of the surplus. But the merchants’ share of the surplus was not, in this early period, acquired through control of the production process. The feudal lords still generally controlled production and expropriated the surplus. The result of exchange between the merchants and the lords was a sharing of the surplus by the two groups. Therefore, from the merchants’ points of view, it was exchange and not production that generated their profits.