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Utopia: Anarchy or State?

Reading several pages of interesting reports and discussion on the BBC’s website about Somalia, I wonder:

Is Sudan a better country to live in than Somalia?
Do refugees travel between the two countries (probably via Ethiopia) and which is the better place to live?
How would Somalia score on a human rights questionnaire? Compared with say North Korea. I think of the official line from the worker’s paradise about homosexual rights: “There is no homosexuality in the Republic of Korea, it is a bourgeois disease.”
How obstructive are Somali warlords of international trade compared with say, the EU’s regulatory of tariff restrictions on agriculture? Is it easier and cheaper for a Kenyan farmer to sell food to Somalia than to Sudan or Spain?

I also note that multiple currencies are operating in Somalia, with US dollars, private currencies and old banknotes being exchanged in markets. Are Somalis really so much more intelligent than Europeans who had to be protected from currency choice?

The BBC reporter makes the mistake of comparing Somalia today with Holland Park in London today (except that some types of crime are probably more frequent in Holland Park). He is appalled that guns are for sale and that the entry fees finance qat instead of state schools and state hospitals. I think it is much more interesting to compare Somalia today with neighbouring countries today. On the face of it anarchy seems a lot like Robert A Heinlein’s depiction in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Ken Macleod’s The Star Fraction and The Stone Canal. Despite my quibbles with the BBC on this issue, full marks for going to Somalia eyes wide open, if not quite minds wide open.

23 comments to Utopia: Anarchy or State?

  • Euan Gray

    One of the BBC man’s comparisons was with neighbouring countries – 15% of Somalis of school age go to school and the comparable figure in neighbouring countries is 75%.

    As for the entry fees financing drugs – well, isn’t this a waste? Perhaps it might be argued that $3 taken forcibly by an armed thug to feed his drug habit is morally equivalent to $3 taken forcibly by the state to fund hopeless schools. But it’s still $3 that the Somali cannot spend to buy his child an education. Better no education than taxpayer funded education?

    People in many countries use different currencies. In most places, there is no penalty other than the fees charged by the money changers (although I risked 3 months in a Sudanese jail a few years ago paying for a taxi with greenbacks). You can spend dollars and euros quite easily in London as well as pounds, for example.

    EG

  • 15% of Somalis of school age go to school and the comparable figure in neighbouring countries is 75%

    And this is a bad thing? I think not

  • You also won’t see famines or genocide in Somalia.

    Both of these require a strong central government. The former requires a state to steal stored grain and prevent victims from walking away from the famine area. The latter requires the state to first disarm the victims.

    every time the UN or some other bully has tried to impose a government, they got their teeth kicked in. If the Somalis can keep this up, they might get themselves out of the same socialist shithole that the rest of africa has jumped into.

    The Somali clan leaders are no saints … but their disorganization allows individual somalis to better their lived with serious interferance.

  • Sp. errors:

    The Somali clan leaders are no saints … but their disorganization allows individual somalis to better their lives without serious interferance.

  • BridgetB

    I agree. It could be more informative to look at the potentials in a country as opposed to the current state of affairs. With a free market or freerer market, less genocide, etc. the changes can be quick. Next year we could see a different, better Somalia. Lets hope so.

  • No famine. . . The Somali clan leaders are no saints … but their disorganization allows individual somalis to better their lives without serious interferance.

    Hah, those are good comments. They are the absolute truth, too. An individual is left alone to better himself in Somalia. At least until an individual betters his life enough to have something worth looting.* Like food. At which point all bets are off. Thankfully, there isn’t a police force there – otherwise those poor folks would be subject to the predations of the state’s police power.

    There is one other exception to the general liberty. That occurs if the individual happens across the path of the equally free, and perhaps better empowered private militia of said “clan leaders”, known coloquially as warlords. In that case, the individual’s life is forfeit if the qat-stoned militia man feels like wasting him.

    (Hey, there’s a point we left out – drugs are wayyyyy legal in Somalia. Cool.)

    The rampant murder of people and widespread rape for political terror and fun isn’t a tragedy, though. One man’s murder and rape is another man’s empowerment and self-expressive behavior. Clan militia life is a true triumph for Rothbardian anarcho-libertarians. Ahhh, nothing like living in a Hobbesian landscape to get a deep drink from the cup of completely undiluted liberty…

  • The Wobbly Guy

    OTOH, I don’t think the Somalis have the cultural hardwiring to take advantage of their present lack of a central power.

    Tribalism is rampant, and all power stems from the barrel of a gun, which, when taken on the whole, favors the organised militias more than the individual. This describes very nicely what Euan and me had been predicting about the state of violence in anarchic conditions, when armed individuals encounter armed gangs. The armed gangs win out every time, and all and any profit is easily taken by them. How can anybody do business?

    For progress to occur, there must be some form of central government, if nothing else, to control the militias and the rule of law.

    TWG

  • hmm when you talk abut Heinlein sombody are actuly trying to start a country based on his ideas http://www.new-utopia.com and since you can lease porpety and setup ther owen laws maybe its not that far away from AC practicly

  • The rampant murder of people and widespread rape for political terror and fun isn’t a tragedy, though. One man’s murder and rape is another man’s empowerment and self-expressive behavior. Clan militia life is a true triumph for Rothbardian anarcho-libertarians. Ahhh, nothing like living in a Hobbesian landscape to get a deep drink from the cup of completely undiluted liberty…

    Posted by Al Maviva

    So you prefer your terror and murder to be dished out express style by a central government?

    Apparently only bureaucrats and police should be “empowered” in your world.

  • Rob

    I think most reasonable people would prefer to do away with terror and murder altogether.

    The most obvious problem in a country like Somalia is the lack of protection for private property. This places a limit on the productivity of individuals which wipes out many of the benefits of their freedom. If someone can confiscate your property at the point of a gun, it doesn’t matter much whether he’s a government official or a member of the local militia.

    If, of course, the militias agreed not to do so, and be bound by laws stating that individuals have a right to private property, then we would have a much better situation for Somalis.

    The question then becomes “how can these laws be enforced?”. Without enforcement of such laws, Somali private property rights will be non-existent and individuals will continue to lose the benefits of their hard work. It might be better than a collectivist dictatorship in which the wealth generated is confiscated for the benefit of a ruling elite, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?

    It might be possible to conceive of a system whereby the militias agree to abide by private property laws, for mutual benefit. I’m open-minded as to whether such a system could work, without either collapsing or resulting in a government of some kind.

    If these basic laws could be agreed to and abided by, Somalia would undoubtedly prosper (at least compared to its present condition). If these laws were simply interpreted as “private property for anyone with enough guns to defend their base camp” then the average Somali would be no better off.

  • “Fellow Humans-may I welcome myself.”

    I am flattered that you find my country interesting,
    but i would like to warn you that is is far more complex then you may think.

    The general picture maybe Anarchcapitalism at work but closer inspection may find Statism fighting a guerilla war.

    You maybe interested to note that statists and its many forms like Socialist are in the very same position that us Anarchists maybe in other countries.
    Over here the state is held in general contempt by a large section of the population.

    The disintegration of the state has resulted in what some may
    call anarcy, chaos, a hell hole.
    This is not necessarily the case, i live abroad but visit somalia often usually once a year and it can be a pleasent place to live. As you may know somalia is not Moqadishu and its environs , there are allot of stable peacefull regions that do not have a state and run perfectly well.

    Statistics are difficult to gather but it is reported that exports are 5 X the preware level.
    Their are 5 private Airliners that operate regionally and even one Dallo that has a flight from London.
    their are also at least 6 telecomunnication companies that offer one of the lowest rates in Africa and the Middleeast…

    Interesting commentary from someone in the know.

  • I think most reasonable people would prefer to do away with terror and murder altogether.

    I think most “reasonable” people realize that terror and murder can never be done away with altogether.

    Somalia does have a problem with private property protection, but it is not entirely clear to me that, given the social norms and history of that society, things would be any better with a centralized law-enforcement monopoly.

  • Rob

    Agreed. Simply imposing central government, especially on an unwilling population, would not be beneficial.

    However, I still believe that individual rights require some form of protection. Wealthy individuals or companies which can afford to pay the militias for protection will be safe, but individuals will not.

    Particularly worrying is the question of what happens when an individual falls into conflict with the militia. I’m assuming that the militia, having the monopoly or near-monopoly on force in the local area can act almost with impunity. They can use this force to protect those they favour (or those who pay them), and to harm those they dislike (for example, those who seek to compete with the militia or its interests).

    btw, I agree that terror and murder are inevitable in a free society – there will always be some who choose to violate the rights of others. That’s part of the risk of life. That’s why we have laws – to provide disincentives for people to behave in that way. In situations where the guardians of the law (be they government or militias) are the ones perpetrating the violations, the law ceases to function properly as a means of constraining that behaviour. That would be my fear for a Somalianesque state; that the militias would abuse their power and individuals would have no recourse to justice.

  • I agree: property rights need protection. But that alone doesn’t tell us what the best (or least-bad) protection mechanism may be.

    I’m skeptical of the “rich will rule” argument. The rich, to a large extent, already rule. They have much more influence over the government than poor people do. And if the police do not provide sufficient protection, the wealthy can always purchase personal bodyguards. Crime rates tend to be much higher in poorer areas under our current state of government and the poor have litte recourse for protection. Gun control laws tend to make personal protection even more expensive and difficult for poor people, with a red-tape licensing scheme, bans on “saturday night specials” (cheap guns), bans on guns in large, metropolitan cities (where many poor people live, while wealthier people can afford the safer suburbs).

    Roderick Long has a nice response to this objection:

    “Another worry is that the rich would rule. After all, won’t justice just go to the highest bidder in that case, if you turn legal services into an economic good? That’s a common objection. Interestingly, it’s a particularly common objection among Randians, who suddenly become very concerned about the poor impoverished masses. But under which system are the rich more powerful? Under the current system or under anarchy? Certainly, you’ve always got some sort of advantage if you’re rich. It’s good to be rich. You’re always in a better position to bribe people if you’re rich than if you’re not; that’s true. But, under the current system, the power of the rich is magnified. Suppose that I’m an evil rich person, and I want to get the government to do something-or-other that costs a million dollars. Do I have to bribe some bureaucrat a million dollars to get it done? No, because I’m not asking him to do it with his own money. Obviously, if I were asking him to do it with his own money, I couldn’t get him to spend a million dollars by bribing him any less than a million. It would have to be at least a million dollars and one cent. But people who control tax money that they don’t themselves personally own, and therefore can’t do whatever they want with, the bureaucrat can’t just pocket the million and go home (although it can get surprisingly close to that). All I have to do is bribe him a few thousand, and he can direct this million dollars in tax money to my favorite project or whatever, and thus the power of my bribe money is multiplied.

    Whereas, if you were the head of some private protection agency and I’m trying to get you to do something that costs a million dollars, I’d have to bribe you more than a million. So, the power of the rich is actually less under this system. And, of course, any court that got the reputation of discriminating in favor of millionaires against poor people would also presumably have the reputation of discriminating for billionaires against millionaires. So, the millionaires would not want to deal with it all of the time. They’d only want to deal with it when they’re dealing with people poorer, not people richer. The reputation effects – I don’t think this would be too popular an outfit.

    Worries about poor victims who can’t afford legal services, or victims who die without heirs (again, the Randians are very worried about victims dying without heirs) – in the case of poor victims, you can do what they did in Medieval Iceland. You’re too poor to purchase legal services, but still, if someone has harmed you, you have a claim to compensation from that person. You can sell that claim, part of the claim or all of the claim, to someone else. Actually, it’s kind of like hiring a lawyer on a contingency fee basis. You can sell to someone who is in a position to enforce your claim. Or, if you die without heirs, in a sense, one of the goods you left behind was your claim to compensation, and that can be homesteaded.”

    That would be my fear for a Somalianesque state; that the militias would abuse their power and individuals would have no recourse to justice.

    What is our recourse when governments abuse their power, as they always do? Voting? Besides the public choice reasons why voting is a poor mechanism for excercising and implementing individual preferences, what happens when your vote is in the minority?

    The government is already the ultimate arbiter of justice; it grants itself the power to interpret its own constitutional limitations. It need not face any competition, as Somalian warlards do.

  • veryretired

    I live in a midwestern state in the US which has acquired a rather sizeable community of Somali immigrants over the last ten years or so.

    Interesting that these folks don’t seem as enraptured with good old anarchistic Somalia as do some of the contributors here.

    Of course, it is easier to write airy little blog entries about the joys of living amongst the competing warlords, and enjoying all that extra freedom, than it is to actually live and raise a family under such conditions.

    Maybe some devotee of marxism could write a little sonnet to the joys of life in N. Korea in the other thread above. It would have about the same level of credibility as “Ode to the Somali Warlord”.

  • Euan Gray

    I live in a midwestern state in the US which has acquired a rather sizeable community of Somali immigrants over the last ten years or so

    There’s a few of them over here in Edinburgh, too.

    Wonder why they left…

    EG

  • Wild Pegasus

    Somalia, as compared to democracies like America and Britain is pretty unattractive. But the people there who wish the same thing for Somalia are historically ignorant. Their democracies are the result of a long historical process starting in despotism and gradually evolving towards liberalism. Somalia just had a brutal dictator taken from power and fought off an invasion, however well-intention, from outsiders. Comparing 2004 Somalia to 2004 Britain is obtuse. Comparing 2004 Somalia to, say, 800 Britain is more sensible. On that scale, Somalia is doing just fine.

    - Josh

  • Goodjohnson

    Holding Somalia up as some kind of poster boy for ‘anti-state’ beliefs will attract ridicule, not admiration. One of the main reasons for this is that states (plural) do exist in Somalia, and so claiming it is anarchy makes you look, quite plainly, stupid.

    A little tip to anarchy lovers: it does not, did not, and will never exist. Sorry to burst your bubble, but humans will build ‘states’ whether bidden to or not.

  • At the risk of this post not being read, I have to say that it seems a lot of people in this thread have mistaken what appears, to me, to have been the whole point. Somalia isn’t being held up as a shining example of a functioning anarcho-capitalist society. It’s more, Where might they go from here, if a state fails to form?

    If (big if, in truth) the Somalis manage to establish and maintain a general peace without a state, it will be interesting to see how the develop, say, forty of fifty years from now. Especially as compared with Europe or the U.S.

  • On a vaguely similar topic, I read somewhere – Wikipedia I think – that Argentina right after the recent economic crash there was, economically speaking, an anarchy for about six months.

    And that in that time, the economy managed to stabilise itself.

    It was listed as one of the few examples in the real world of successful anarchism.

  • Newsnight did a report back in July about a Coca-cola factory opening in Somalia. What struck me was how hard the reporter found it to believe that any such enterprise could be so successful without government.

    Private security was hired to protect the factory. For a company this must surely be more cost effective than a government police force.

  • mike

    “There’s a few of them over here in Edinburgh, too.
    Wonder why they left…”

    Euan: yeah – and sometimes we wonder why we stay in Edinburgh, hmm!?!

  • Shawn

    “Interesting that these folks don’t seem as enraptured with good old anarchistic Somalia as do some of the contributors here.”

    Thats because the Somalians have experience with reality. Anarchism is a theory with no evidence in its support and no real world examples of successful anarchist social systems. Most anarchists I have met, talked to or read live in a political fantasy land. In many respects they are similar to Marxists, utterly convinced of the rightness of their theory despite the lack of evidence, and perfectly willing to ignore evidence to the contrary.