autarky in Spain
A dictionary of Spanish history and culture
With the Spanish economy in tatters at the end the Civil War, Franco’s solution was the withdrawal from the world market, the creation of import substitution industries and the promotion of state intervention to supplement the weakness of private capital. The economy was to be powered by the brutal exploitation of a tamed workforce. The system of autarky was modelled on the economies of European fascism and Nazism, which of course the regime greatly admired. This was an expression of the extreme form of nationalism of the regime, and a n explicit rejection of liberalism.
Whatever the case, the plan was an utter failure and helped to under-develop Spain for twenty years. The attempt make Spain self-sufficient in wheat production was a disaster, and rife with corruption, and its populace barely survived on imports from the Peron regime of Argentina from 1946 to the early 1950s.
Franco himself was remarkably ignorant of simple economics, and at times placed his faith in hare-brained schemes which he believed would save Spain. On one occasion, a Czech engineer and con-man managed to convince the general that with the waters of the River Jarama, certain herbs and secret powders, Spain could get all the petroleum it needed. On another, he was convinced of a plan to solve the country’s terrible hunger of the 1940s by feeding the population with dolphin sandwiches. It is unsure where Spain would get enough dolphin meat to feed 30 million people. (La Memoria Insumisa, Nicolás Sartorius y Javier Alfaya, 1999). Indeed in the background of this economic quackery some 200,000 people died of hunger in the early years of Francoism, a period known as Los Años de Hambre.
On the verge of bankruptcy, a combination of pressure from the USA, the IMF and technocrats from Opus Dei managed to “convince” the regime to adopt a free market economy in 1959 in what amounted to a mini coup d’etat which removed the old guard in charge of the economy, despite the opposition of Franco. This economic liberalisation was not, however, accompanied by political reforms and repression continued unabated, though these very reforms would lead to socio-economic changes in Spanish society which would make the regime’s continuation 16 years later untenable. This was of course precisely what Franco feared.
Franco’s policy of economic selfsufficiency or autarky contributed to the repression and humiliation of the defeated and to capital accumulation although its rigidity also delayed eventual growth. Considering himself to be an economist of genius, Franco embraced autarky oblivious to the fact that Spain lacked the technological and industrial base which had made such a policy feasible for the Third Reich. Autarky in Spain brought economic and social disaster – the shortages consequent upon closing Spain to the world provoked the emergence of a black market, the estraperlo, which exacerbated the differences between rich and poor.
Inevitably, it was those close to the regime who benefited and the defeated who suffered. State interventionism in every aspect of the planting, harvesting, processing, sale and distribution of wheat was so corrupt that it made fortunes for officials while creating shortages that saw food prices rocket. Access to work and ration cards meant getting identity cards and safe conducts which involved certificates of ‘good behaviour’ from local Falangist officials and parish priests. Inevitably, the defeated suffered materially and were further humiliated while the sense of well being of the victors was enhanced
Wikipedia defines autarky as:
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.
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