Antonio Serra

Contributions of Antonio Serra (1580-1650)

Antonio Serra was an Italian mercantilist who was born in 1580.  He was the first mercantilist writer who gave a systematic version of mercantilism in pamphlet, “A Brief Treatise on the Causes Which Can Make Gold and Silver Abound in Kingdoms Where There Are No Mines, 1613”. Serra explained the causes which would bring about abundance of gold and silver. He said that these precious metals were very important and helpful to trade and people.  According to him, there were two sources for acquiring these metals. Firstly, a country should be blessed with its own gold and silver mines. Secondly, there were other countries in whose case certain factors would enable them to acquire these metals. He classified these factors as ‘collateral factors’. These collateral factors were again divided into ‘particular factors’ and ‘common factors’. The particular factors were applicable to particular countries where there were surplus of products over the needs of a country.  So the surplus goods would be transported to those countries where they were lacking. This was the export surplus resulting in inflows of gold and silver. Also basing on the geographical location of a trading area of a country, a country might be put it in an advantageous position compared with other countries resulting in inflows of gold and silver.

On the other hand, common factors were applicable universally to any country. The common factors included “quantity of industry, quality of population, extensive trading operations, and regulations of the sovereign”.

Firstly, Serra believes that industry is more productive than agriculture in generating inflows of gold and silver. The artisan is more certain of a profit by working at his trade than is the peasant. The peasant depends on uncertain weather conditions resulting in loss. Secondly, it is possible to expand the scale of production in the industry to get more profit, whereas it is not possible in respect of agricultural produce. Therefore, the law of increasing returns is applicable to industry. Thirdly, agricultural commodities are comparatively perishable and the industry is sure of market and more stable. Fourthly, industry is more profitable than agriculture.

Regarding quality of population, he explained that people of a country must be industrious and hardworking.  Also, people should be zealous and anxious to development trade, both internal and external trade. In respect of state regulations, he is indecisive because there are several causes which made the arrangement of regulations very difficult.

Just as in the case of Thomas Mun, Serra also allowed the export of money due to its benefits on certain occasions. He declared that “if money is exported for any purpose whatever, it must return with a profit into the kingdom from which it was sent”. Therefore, export of money is not in itself harmful, so long as there would an export surplus.