States of Autarky

The Benefits of Self-Sufficiency

A great many economists and politicians contend that the absence of trade inevitably leads to armed conflict.  Thus, in the interests of national security, they insist on virtually unlimited trade and castigate those who favor its restriction as proponents of autarky—a term that few understand yet most agree to be negative, isolationist, and perhaps even extremist.

Economist.com, for example, defines autarky as the idea that a nation-state should be “self-sufficient and not take part in international trade.”  They warn us that

The experience of countries that have pursued this Utopian ideal by substituting domestic production for imports is an unhappy one.  No country has been able to produce the full range of goods demanded by its population at competitive prices.  Indeed, those that have tried to do so have condemned themselves to inefficiency and comparative poverty, compared with countries that engage in international trade.

This theme is common in college textbooks, which describe autarky in absolutist terms as the absence of trade or isolation.  In his book International Economics, Dominick Salvatore describes autarky in absolute terms as the “absence of trade, or isolation.”  And, based on its usage in the American press, you would think that such extreme isolation and utter lack of trade has characterized...

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