The aim of this article is to look at ideas of social welfare in the English political economy from the 16th to the early 18th Century. In doing so, we shall focus upon the relationship between English Mercantilist economic thought and the evolution of the institutional framework established in order to cope with the problem of poverty and unemployment. In other words, rather than viewing Mercantilism as an “exercise in economic nationalism” we shall inquiry it under the perspective of social policy. Although the most credited assessments of Mercantilism have depicted it as a doctrine which supported a “ruthlessly materialistic ruling class which did not merely neglect but actively exploited the poor”, by placing the emphasis on the role played by the allowance system in the overall strategy of poor relief in England throughout the 17th Century we shall see that during the Mercantilist period social policies were not neglectful of the need of the poor. This reinforces the idea of a social Mercantilism.
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