We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Compare the real to the real

Antoine Clarke is a ferociously well-informed man, so perhaps he can nail down a quotation from Milton Friedman for me. Somewhere in his discussion of market failure, Friedman points out that when someone says, “but if there were no government intervention, this or that bad thing might happen,” it’s a perfectly valid defence to answer, “And with government intervention this horrendously bad thing definitely is happening.” You compare the real option with the other real option, not the real with the ideal.

In his post “If they must die: then let them do so quickly” Antoine makes the same error. He writes,

“Great. “Algeria” is better off for the next twenty years under Islamic fundamentalist rule … Several thousand individual women have had their throats cut in the past decade for not wearing ‘modest dress’. Several hundred children have been slaughtered by similar means. But that’s OK ‘cos in twenty years someone else’s kids might not be shot for demonstrating against the ban on “The Simpsons” or Pepsi adverts.”

No, it’s not OK. It will never be OK. My point and Brian’s was not that either Algeria or Iran are OK but that Iran is less bad than Algeria, and that the main reason for that is that the Iranian army let their fundamentalists keep their genuine election victory, dreadful though the fundamentalists were. The Iranian corpse-pile is lower by a factor of around ten, I believe. How much clearer can it get that the Iranian path is the better one to follow? Of course it would be a million times better yet if

“…consenting Islamic fundamentalists wished to purchase land and build a shining model of the good society for us all to learn from.”

But this was never on the table. It was on the table for the Iranian army, not known for its fundamentalism, to mount a coup at the time of the first Iranian election. It was on the table for the Algerian army not to. And I bloody well wish they hadn’t.

There’s another libertarian point to be made in this case. Don’t initiate agression. Antoine correctly observes that:

“Unlike Iran, the Algerian Islamists are quite open about scrapping elections.”

Now I am relying on memory here, but I seem to recall that the FIS gave the opposite impression at the time of their original election victory. Having their genuine election victory stolen from them gave them support, put fire in their bellies, made them more savage. War made them worse, so that now, yes, they have to be shot like dogs (and I am willing to defer to Antoine’s superior knowledge about the relative evil of the two sides.) Judging from the Iranian experience, it would have been better not to have had the war.

So would everything have been hunky-dory then? No. Quite possibly the FIS were always lying and always intended to scrap the holding of elections. It still would have been better, militarily, practically better, to have let the guilt fall on them. That was the real alternative.

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