REVIEW #15: Myth of Autarky and Self-Sufficiency from Mercantilism to Present Day: Why Do We Still Fall for Idea When Dependent on Export for Survival?

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Olga Łabendowicz & Lotokot Studio

Some ideas have a tendency to survive in the minds of people, no matter how many times they are proven wrong. The economic nationalism, under the name of self-sufficiency or autarky, has not been a new concept. The idea dates back at least to the era of Mercantilism of the French monarchy under Louis XIV.

Despite the dominant economic success of the laissez-faire free trade policy of the dominant countries of the 18th and 19th century, the ideology of self-sufficiency found its place in numerous totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century and even the early 21st century. For this reason, the dominant myth of self-sufficiency within the specific sectors where it survives to the present day needs to be examined.


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MARTIN REGULI / THE MYTH OF AUTARKY AND SELF-SUFFICIENCY FROM MERCANTILISM TO THE PRESENT DAY: WHY DO WE STILL FALL FOR THE IDEA WHEN DEPENDENT ON EXPORT FOR SURVIVAL?


The one element that unites the main areas of the economy has been the sense of endangerment associated with a handful of sectors, where people share a sentiment of a threat coming from a crisis (related, for example, to food and energy supplies, health care, etc.), where the government can justify its strong presence, subsidies, and protectionism of domestic producers.

Therefore, let us look at the key arguments presented, as well as their application in practice and confront them with the reality of the new age of Autarky, which threatens to undo many successes of economic transformation in the region.

Toward Understanding Autarky

Over the course of history, economic liberalism has been engaged in many battles, which have been extremely difficult to win. While some ideas have failed a number of times, they keep resurfacing in the political and economic discourse due to their emotional or patriotic appeal.

One of the most resistant ideas in this sense is that of economic self-sufficiency (often referred to as economic autarky). This concept has been present in European economic history on a regular basis at least since the time of the Renaissance, and all the way to the present day when a new age of autarky emerges in the public discourse.

This analysis aims to look at the foundation of autarky and its brief history in order to understand its emotional appeal in the specific sectors of the economy – especially within the scenarios of crisis. This is when people always feel the need to protect and control those sectors of the economy necessary for the survival of the population. These areas include agriculture, fresh water, energy, or health care.

Within these sectors, the accepted rules for how to govern the economic growth through trade and competitiveness are scrapped to comfort the often-irrational fears, which leads to a cyclical situation. The crisis of government mismanagement feeds the voices calling for a more efficient form of government control. It is a cycle that liberals must work tirelessly to break and reassert the efficiency of economic liberalism within these areas of the economy where emotions often reign supreme.

Theoretical Foundation of Autarky

From the theoretical perspective, economic self-sufficiency is antithetical to the laissez-faire economic liberalism, which is based on several concepts that liberals take for granted: economic specialization, free trade, and improvement through competitive pressures, which command specific economic and industrial policies.


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Martin Reguli
4liberty.eu