Thomas Mun (1571-1641)
England's Treasure By Foreign Trade
Original Electronic Text at the web site of the Department of Economics, McMaster University.
Born into a London merchant family, Thomas Mun became a succesful merchant in the Mediterranean trade, capturing a significant share of the trade between England and Turkey. In 1615, he became director of the powerful East India Company. While continuing to serve the Company, he authored numerous books in the 1620s and 30s, including economic writings and advice books. England's Treasure by Foreign Trade belongs to both of these genres; it is a book wherein Mun gives advice to his son about being a good merchant and about the creation of wealth. It was probably written in 1630, but not published until 1664, twenty-three years after Mun's death.
1. How do the qualities of a "perfect merchant" compare with the qualities of one trained in the liberal arts, as soutlined by Vergerius?
2. How does Mun compare the merchant with the noble? Why does Mun feel the need to defend the merchant and compare him favorably with the noble?
3. What were the "Means to enrich this Kingdom"?
4. How does Mun respond to critics of usury (charging interest on loans)? What, do you suppose, was the basis for the criticism of usury? What distinguishes the thinking of Mun from the critics of usury?
5. How does Mun respond to critics of excessive "Bounty and Pomp"? What, do you suppose, was the rationale for criticising "Bounty and Pomp"? What distinguishes the thinking of Mun from the critics of "Bounty and Bomp"
6. Given the nature of Mun's defense of merchants and given the nature of the criticism of merchants (inferred from Mun's argument), what were the chief obstacles faced by merchants, and, more generally, faced by capitalism?
 My Son, In a former Discourse I have endeavoured after my manner
briefly to teach thee two things: The first is Piety, how to fear
God aright, according to his Works and Word: The second is
Policy, how to love and serve thy Country, by instructing thee in
the duties and proceedings of sundry Vocations, which either
order, or else act the affairs of the Common-wealth; In which as
some things doe especially lend to Preserve, and others are more
apt to Enlarge the same: So am I now to speak of Money, which
doth indifferently serve to both those happy ends. Wherein I will
observe this order, First, to show the general means whereby a
Kingdome may be enriched; and then to proceed to those particular
courses by which Princes are accustomed to be supplyed with
Treasure. But first of all I will say something of the Merchant,
because he must be a Principal Agent in this great business.
The Qualities which are required in a perfect Merchant of
 The love and service of our Country consisteth not so much in
the knowledge of those duties which are to be performed by
others, as in the skilful practice of that which is done our
selves; and therefore (my Son) it is now fit that I say sonething
of the Merchant, which I hope in due time shall be thy Vocation:
Yet herein are my thougths free from all Ambition, although I
rank thee in a place of so high esteem; for the Merchant is
worthily called The Steward of the Kingdoms Stock, by way of
Commerce with other Nations; a work of no less Reputation than
Trust, which ought to be performed with great skill and
conscience, that so the private gain may ever accompany the
publique good. And because the nobleness of this profession may
the better stir up thy desires and endeavours to obtain those
abilities which may effect it worthily, I well briefly set down
the excellent qualities which are required in a perfect Merchant.
1. He ought to be a good Penman, a good Arithmetician, and a
good Accountant, by that noble order of Debtor and Creditor,
which is used only amongst Merchants; also to be expert in the
order and form of Charter-parties. Bills of Lading, Invoices,
Contracts, Bills of Exchange, and policies of Insurance.
2. He ought to know the Measures, Weights. and Monies of all
foreign Countries, especially where we have Trade, & the Monies
not only by their several denominations, but also by their
intrinsic values in weight & fineness, compared with the
Standard of this Kingdome, without which he cannot well direct
3. He ought to know the Customs, Tolls, Taxes, Impositions,
Conducts and other charges upon all matters of Merchandise
exported or imported to and from the said Foreign Countries.
4. He ought to know in what several commodities each Country
abounds, and what be the wares which they want [lack], and how and from
whence they are furnished with the same.
5. He ought to understand, and to be a diligent observer of the
rates of Exchanges by Bills, from one State to another, whereby
he may the better direct his affairs,and remit over and receive
home his Monies to the most advantage possible.
6. He ought to know what goods are prohibited to be exported or
imported in the said foreign Countries, lest otherwise he should
incur great danger and loss in the ordering of his affairs.
7. He ought to know upon what rates and conditions to freight
his Ships, and ensure his adventures from one Countrey to
another, and to be well acquainted with the laws, orders and
customs of the Insurance office both here and beyond the Seas,
in the many accidents which may happen upon the damage or loss of
Ships or goods, or both these.
8. He ought to have knowledge in the goodness and in the prices
of all the several materials which are required for the building
and repairing of Ships, and the diverse workmanships of the same,
as also for the Masts, Tackling, Cordage, Ordnance, Victuals,
Munition and Provisions of many kinds; together with the ordinary
wages of Commanders, Officers and Mariners, all which concern the
Merchant as he is an Owner of Ships.
9. He ought (by the diverse occasions which happen sometime in
the buying and selling of one commodity and sometimes in another)
to have indifferent if not perfect knowledge in all manner of
Merchandise or wares, which is to be as it were a man of all
occupations and trades.
10. He ought by his voyaging on the Seas to become skilful in
the Art of Navigation.
11. He ought as he is a Traveler, and sometimes abiding in
foreign Countreys to attain to the speaking of diverse Languages,
and to be a diligent observer of the ordinary Revenues and
expences of foreign Princes, together with their strength both
by Sea and Land, their laws, customes, policies, manners,
religions, arts, and the like; to be able to give account thereof
in all occasions for the good of his Countrey.
12. Lastly, although there be no necessity that such a Merchant
should be a great Scholar; yet is it (at least) required, that in
his youth he learn the Latin tongue, which will the better
enable him in all the rest of his endeavours.
 Thus have I briefly shewed thee a pattern for thy diligence,
the Merchant in his qualities; which in truth are such and so
many, that I find no other profession which leadeth into more
worldly knowledge. And it cannot be denied but that their
sufficiency doth appear likewise in the excellent government of
State at Venice, Luca, Genoua, Florence, the low Countreys, and
divers other places of Christendom. And in those States also
where they are least esteemed, yet is their skill and knowledge
often used by those who sit in the highest places of Authority:
It is therefore an act beyond rashness in some, who do dis-enable
their Counsel and judgment (even in books printed) making them
uncapable of those ways and means which do either enrich or
impoverish a Commonwealth, when in truth this is only effected
by the mystery of their trade, as I shall plainly show in that
which followeth. It is true indeed that many Merchants here in
England finding less encouragement given to their profession than
in other Countries, and seeing themselves not so well esteeemed
as their Noble Vocation requireth, and according to the great
consequence of the same, do not therefore labour to attain unto
the excellency of their profession, neither is it practised by
the Nobility of this Kingdom as it is in other States from the
Father to the Son throughout their generations, to the great
encrease of their wealth, and maintenance of their names and
families: Whereas the memory of our richest Merchants is suddenly
extinguished; the Son being left rich, scorneth the profession of
his Father, conceiving more honor to be a Gentleman (although but
in name) to consume his estate in dark ignorance and excess, than
to follow the steps of his Father as an Industrious Merchant to
maintain and advance his Fortunes. But now leaving the Merchants
praise we will come to his practice, or at least to so much
thereof as concerns the bringing of Treasure into the Kingdom.
The Means to enrich this Kingdom, and to encrease our Treasure.
 Although a Kingdom may be enriched by gifts received, or by
purchase taken from some other Nations, yet these are things
uncertain and of small consideration when they happen. The
ordinary means therefore to increase our wealth and treasure is
by Foreign Trade, wherein we must ever observe this rule; to
sell more to strangers yearly than we consume of theirs in
value. For suppose that when this Kingdom is plentifully served
with the Cloth, Lead, Tin, Iron, Fish and other native
commodities, we doe yearly export the overplus to foreign
Countries to the value of twenty two hundred thousand pounds; by
which means we are enabled beyond the Seas to buy and bring in
foreign wares for our use and Consumption, to the value of
twenty hundred thousand pounds; By this order duly kept in our
trading, we may rest assured that the Kingdom shall be enriched
yearly two hundred thousand pounds, which must be brought to us
in so much Treasure; because that part of our stock which is not
returned to us in wares must necessarily be brought home in
 For in this case it cometh to pass in the stock of a Kingdom,
as in the estate of a private man; who is supposed to have one
thousand pounds yearly revenue and two thousand pounds of ready
money in his Chest: If such a man through excess shall spend one
thousand five hundred pounds per annum, all his ready mony will
be gone in four years; and in the like time his said money will
be doubled if he take a Frugal course to spend but five hundred
pounds per annum; which rule never faileth likewise in the
Commonwealth, but in some cases (of no great moment) which I will
hereafter declare, when I shall show by whom and in what manner
this ballance of the Kingdoms account ought to be drawn up
yearly, or so often as it shall please the State to discover how
much we gain or lose by trade with foreign Nations. . . .
Of some Excesses and evils in the Commonwealth, which
notwithstanding decay not our Trade nor Treasure.
 It is not my intent to excuse or extenuate any the least excess
or evil in the Commonwealth, but rather highly to approve and
commend that which by others hath been spoken and written against
such abuses. Yet in this discourse of Treasure, as I have already
set down affirmatively, which are the true causes that may either
augment or decrease the same: so is it not impertinent to
continue my negative declarations of those enormities and actions
which cannot work these effects as some men have supposed. For in
redress of this important business, if we mistake the nature of
the Malady, we shall ever apply such cures as will at least
delay, if not confound the Remedy.
 Let us then begin with Usury, which if it might be turned
into Charity, and that they who are Rich would lend to the poor
freely; it were a work pleasing to Almighty God, and profitable
to the Commonwealth. But taking it in the degree it now stands;
How can we well say, that as Usury increaseth, so Trade
decreaseth? For although it is true that some men give over
trading, and buy Lands, or put out their Money to use when they
are grown rich, or old, or for some other the like occasions; yet
for all this it doth not follow, that the quantity of the trade
must lessen; for this course in the rich giveth opportunity
presently to the younger & poorer Merchants to rise in the world,
and to enlarge their dealings; to the performance whereof, if
they want [lack] means of their own, they may, and do,take it up at
interest: so that our money lies not dead, it is still traded.
How many Merchants, and Shop-keepers have begun with little or
nothing of their own, and yet are grown very rich by trading with
other mens money? do we not know, that when trading is quick and
good, many men, by means of their experience, and having credit
to take up money at interest, do trade for much more than they
are worth of their own stock? by which diligence of the
industrious, the affairs of the Commonwealth are increased, the
moneys of Widows, Orphans, Lawyers, Gentlemen and others, are
employed in the course of Foreign Trade, which themselves have
no skill to perform. We find at this present, that
notwithstanding the Poverty we are fallen into by the Excesses
and Losses of late times, yet that many men have much money in
their chests, and know not how to dispose thereof, because the
Merchant will not take the same at interest (although at low
rates) in regard there is a stop of trade in Spain and in France,
whereby he cannot employ his own means, much less other men's
moneys. So that for these, and some other reasons which might be
alledged, we might conclude, contrary to those who affirm, that
Trade decreaseth as Usury encreaseth, for they rise and fall
together. . . .
 Lastly, all kind of Bounty and Pomp is not to be avoided, for
if we should become so frugal, that we would use few or no
Foreign wares, how shall we then vent [sell] our own commodities? what
will become of our Ships, Mariners, Munitions, our poor
Artificers, and many others? doe we hope that other Countries
will afford us money for All our wares, without buying or
bartering for Some of theirs? this would prove a vain
expectation; it is more safe and sure to run a middle course by
spending moderately, which will purchase treasure plentifully.
 Again, the pomp of Buildings, Apparel, and the like, in the
Nobility, Gentry, and other able persons, cannot impoverish the
Kingdome; if it be done with curious and costly works upon our
Materials, and by our own people, it will maintain the poor with
the purse of the rich, which is the best distribution of the
Commonwealth. But if any man say, that when the people want
work, then the Fishing-trade would be a better employment, and
far more profitable; I subscribe willingly. For in that great
business there is means enough to employ both rich and poor,
whereof there hath been much said and written; It resteth only
that something might be as well affected for the honor and
wealth, both of the King and his Kingdoms.
Return to the syllabus.
Return to the History Department.