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The Dangerous New Age Of Global Autarky

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thewashingtonpost articleThe following is an excerpt from Catherine Rampell | June 6, 2016 | Thewashingtonpost.com |

The age of autarky is again upon us.

Britain, in two weeks, will vote on whether to leave the European Union, that great postwar project to promote both peace and prosperity.

No matter that economists have almost uniformly warned that a possible “Brexit” would devastate the British economy, with an estimated cost of approximately $6,000 per British household. Disregard news that markets are already freaking out about the consequences for the pound and the overall financial sector; that high-skilled talent has become skittish about moving to the British isles, whose relationship to the E.U. in a post-Brexit world is as yet unknown; and that foreign clients have begun suspending or delaying contracts with British companies.

Who cares that these small islands, so dependent on the continent for both what they consume and where they send their exports, are putting so much economic activity at risk?

Many Brits want to withdraw, to show they’re separate and politically self-determined and not really into all this expensive pan-ethnic, pan-European unity rubbish. So withdraw they might. Recent polls show the “leave” and “stay” contingents about evenly split.

Financially self-defeating as it may seem, the British are hardly alone in their flirtation with economic, political and cultural separatism.

Other E.U. exit portmanteaus — Grexit, Itexit, Spexit — speckle the headlines. Within Spain, Catalonians have once again been agitating for independence. Secessionists in the Flanders region of Belgium have reawakened. Even within Britain itself, Scotland not so long ago held a referendum to disunite from the United Kingdom.

Farther east, Russia has engaged in its own jingoistic displays of economic separatism, bulldozing tons of foreign foods and shutting off access to additional imports. (This has of course contributed to the great cheese surplus in the United States.)

Likewise China, once seen as moving toward greater economic and cultural openness, has lately taken a more nationalist, xenophobic and protectionist approach. This spring the government even launched a propaganda campaign warning citizens not to get too cozy with handsome foreigners.

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