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Mercantilism was the dominant school of economic thought throughout the early modern period (from the 16th to the 18th century). Internationally, mercantilism encouraged the many European wars of the period and fueled European imperialism. Academic belief in mercantilism began to fade in the late 18th century, as the arguments of Adam Smith and the other classical economists won out. Today, mercantilism (as a whole) is rejected by economists, though some elements are looked upon favorably by non-economists.

The related school of economic nationalism, which emphasizes the nation and government intervention but deemphasizes bullion in favor of productive capacity, has been and continues to be a dominant model of development economics, as practiced in the 19th century in United States in the National System, Germany in the Zollverein, and Japan, and as practiced in the late 20th and early 21st century by other Asian nations such as the Four Asian Tigers of Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, and most significantly, China. The export-led economies of present-day Japan and Germany are also cited as latter-day variants of mercantilism.

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