An autarky is an economy that is self-sufficient and does not take part in international trade, or severely limits trade with the outside world. Likewise it refers to an ecosystem not affected by influences from the outside, which relies entirely on its own resources. In the economic meaning, it is also referred to as a closed economy.

Origin of the term

The word "autarky" is from the Greek αὐτάρκεια, which means "self-sufficiency" (derived from αὐτο, "self," and ἀρκέω, "to suffice"). The term is sometimes confused with autarchy (Greek: αὐταρχία) which is pronounced the same as autarky, and means self-government or government by absolute rule. Libertarian theorist Robert LeFevre used "autarchy" and "autarchism" in the sense of self-government to describe his own political philosophy and to distinguish it from anarchism.

Modern autarkies

Mercantilism was a policy followed by empires, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, forbidding or limiting trade outside the empire. In the 20th century, autarky as a policy goal was sought by Nazi Germany in the 1930s, by maximizing trade within its economic bloc and minimizing trade outside it, particularly with the then world powers - Britain, the USSR and the United States of America - with whom she would eventually go to war and thus must not rely upon. In 1930s Germany, this economic bloc consisted primarily of economically weak countries such as those in 'South America, the Balkans and eastern Europe (Yugoslavia, Romania and Hungary)' who had raw materials vital to Germany's recovery. Trade with these countries, which was negotiated by then Minister of Economics Hjalmar Schacht, was based on the exchange of German manufactured produce directly for these materials rather than currency, allowing Schacht to barter without reliance on the strength of the Reichsmark. However, although food imports fell significantly between 1932 and 1937, Germany's rapid rearmament policy after 1935 proved contradictory to the Nazi Party autarkic ambitions and imports of raw materials rose by 10% over the same period.

Today, complete economic autarkies are rare. An example of a current autarky is North Korea, based on the government ideology of Juche (self-sufficiency). However, even North Korea has a small amount of trade with the People's Republic of China and Japan. Bhutan, seeking to preserve an economic and cultural system centred around the dzong, has until recently maintained an effective economic embargo against the outside world, and has been described as an autarky. With the introduction of roads and electricity, however, the kingdom is being entered trade relations as its citizens seek modern manufactured goods.

Historical autarkies

  • The United States, while still emerging from the American Revolution and wary of the economic and military might of Great Britain, came close to complete autarky in 1808 when President Jefferson declared a self-imposed embargo on international shipping. The embargo lasted from December 1807 to March 1809.
  • Japan was partially an autarky during the era known as the "Edo period", prior to its opening to the west in the 1850s, as part of its policy of sakoku. There was a moderate amount of trade with China and Korea; trade with all other countries was confined to a single port on the island of Dejima.
  • Mussolini's Italy claimed to be an autarky , especially after the 1935 invasion of Abyssinia and subsequent trade embargoes. However, it still conducted trade with Germany and elsewhere.
  • The Soviet Union during Stalin's reign was proposing a doctrine labeled Socialism in one country. Although it was not necessarily an absolute form of autarky it contained elements supporting an isolationist policy, such as: claims of Russian pre-eminence in various scientific fields, attempts of dissociating the scientific grounds from the Western synchronic theories (the Lysenko affair) and others.
  • Spain, under dictator Francisco Franco, was an autarky from 1939 till Franco allowed outside trade again in 1959, coinciding with the beginning of the "Spanish miracle".
  • India had a policy of near-autarky that began after its establishment as an independent state, around 1950, and ended in 1991.
  • China as well was close to an autarky from around 1960 to 1978, as a result of policies established by Mao Zedong.
  • Burma followed a policy of autarky known as the Burmese Way to Socialism under dictator Ne Win, who ruled the country from 1962 to 1988.
  • Albania became a near-autarky in 1976, when Communist Party leader Enver Hoxha instituted a policy of what he termed "self-reliance". Outside trade increased after Hoxha's death in 1985, though it remained severely restricted until 1991.
  • Ceausescu's Romania in the 1980s proposed such goals as: paying the entire foreign debt, increasing the number of items produced in the country and their quality. The aim of these policies was to reduce dependency on foreign imports, as the relationship of Ceausescu with both Western and Communist leaders was worsening.
  • The United States was a limited autarky between WWI and WWII.


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