Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anarchy vs. Statistics

Somalia has long been cited as a prime example of the horrors of anarchy. I believe that anarchy must avoid the pitfall communism usually falls into, and never say that a place wasn't 'anarchic enough.' There's an argument that runs along the lines that less government is good, therefore you can't conclude that all of a sudden no government is bad, any more than less tumour is good, but completely eliminating it would be bad.

Therefore, I have always accepted Somalia as an example of the features of anarchy, even if I could not, until now, explain what exactly was going on there. This was simply because the place was being misrepresented.

I'll open with the humdinger.

"In the year following the state’s collapse, civil war, exacerbated by severe drought, devastated the Sub-Saharan territory killing 300,000 Somalis (Prendergast 1997).
[...]
Though largely unrecognized by economists, the widespread violence that ravaged Somalia in its first year without government vanished considerably by 1994. By the mid-1990s peace prevailed over most of the country (Menkhaus 1998, 2004). Since 1997 most indicators of Somali development show slow but steady progress and today are above their pre-stateless levels."

And I think that's exactly what you could expect if you implemented anarchy right here and now. Mass death, followed by improvement.

This is an issue that I think lies behind most objections to anarchism, but I never see brought up explicitly. Indeed, in nearly any particular, we can easily see that the government is incompetent and would be better off leaving well enough alone. It's even easy to get agreement on this if you don't make your interlocutor actually think of it as anarchism.

There's just that little bit of mass death between here and there, so if you do bring up anarchism, it covertly takes over the entire dialogue. So, try it out, as I'll be doing. Every time I see an objection of the form, 'but government is necessary for X,' I'll replace it with, 'but what about the mass death?' and see if it still makes sense in context.
"On the one hand, popular opinion sees government as universally superior to anarchy."
"On one hand, opinion sees government as universally superior to a period of mass death." Seems to be working out.


Page twelve has the table listing the actual statistics at hand. The table notes a decline in GDP, which shows how useless GDP is. Radios, TVs, telephones, and physicians all go up, but wealth goes down? Notably, Leeson has an excellent analysis of why the statistics fall like this, but I think the analysis could be generalized farther than Leeson would be comfortable with. I'm also highly amused that literacy and schooling have dropped while life expectancy, and indeed general health, has increased.

Things that are truly important, full list:
[...]
Education
[...]

Actually that's not true, it's just that government education is basically worse than useless. For instance, the medical advances the Somalis are using to improve their health would be impossible without at least one person getting educated, in spite of being schooled.

I am especially amused by this bit, emphasis mine

"Public goods come from a variety of sources in stateless Somalia, including the “taxes” charged by militia. Clan militias provide security to citizens in their territories, and militiamen for hire protect businesses, seaports, large markets, and trade convoys. In other cases shari’a, a form of religious law/courts discussed below, provide security by including guards in their court militia in return for payment from businessmen (UNDP 2001: 109-110). Clan leaders also work together to provide needed public goods in areas outside of Somalia’s big cities where very few exist."

While Leeson has discarded the automatic association between anarchy and mass death, by noting that the mass death can't go on forever, he has failed to discard the association between certain goods and the term 'public.' Public goods are defined as those which can't be properly paid for by being charged for. Although, I can understand why Leeson might be unconsciously reticent to admit that the basic service that his government provides - security - is not, actually, a public good.

Another thing working exactly as your average anarchist says it would:

"Private courts are funded by the donations of successful businessmen who benefit from the presence of this public good in urban centers. Under anarchy, dispute resolution is free and speedy by international standards (Nenova 2004; Nenova and Harford 2004)."

Something that needs to be uplayed a great deal:
"Expansive domestic clan-based social networks also provide social insurance."
The role of a robust social fabric is critical in any anarchic situation. It's one of the reasons anarchy here and now would lead to mass death.

I hate to be so topical, but hey Obama, considered Somalia?
"Private healthcare is also available. Although the state of medicine in Somalia
remains extremely low, medical consultations are very affordable ($0.50/visit)"
Fifty cents. ... Fifty cents?! Puts that dollar a day ("extreme poverty") wage into perspective, doesn't it? Given a minimum wage of eight bucks, that would be $30 for a doctor's visit around here. Medical care, when government isn't mucking with it, is priced on par with DVDs,[1] and moreover markets do not produce shortages, two reasons you know that the American healthcare system is not private, whatever they're fond of saying.

Another thing that puts the dollar a day wage into perspective...most of Somali is pastoral. Many earning that dollar aren't relying on that dollar for all their wealth the way a western citizen does. They not only have farms, they have friends with farms. Living hand to mouth isn't something we really do here - but, literally, at least some of those 'extremely poor' Somalis are making things with their hands, and then consuming them. Instead, they're just using the cash to pay for doctor's visits.


Despite all this, I have three concerns. First, the GDP issue is probably just the tip of an iceberg of dodgy statistics. The paper may not be as supportive as anarchism as it appears. Second, the paper only barely touched the fact that while Somalia lacks a central government, it is not really anarchy, but rather polyarchy, which would simply invoke the well-known principles governing monopolies, rather than the people's ability to self-govern. For example, the paper places the free market price on roads - apparently it is 5% of something, but that could simply be because the local militias compete with each other for traffic, and is not likely to continue indefinitely.

Finally, in the Europe of say 1500, military realities would have forced a place like anarchist Somalia off the map in a matter of days, only limited by the time it took for the armies to march across the landscape. What has changed? Depending on the answer, anarchy may be even more viable than Somalia leads us to believe...or Somalia may be unknowingly dancing across a knife edge.

[1] Does that mean an MRI would cost about as much as a DVD player? If so, a getting a truly private MRI would probably be about as much hassle as buying a DVD player. The Somalis do not have the capital investment to afford MRIs, but, in a decade or so, perhaps we'll find out? If the TNG doesn't get off the ground, that is.

10 comments:

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D12 said...

You clearly underestimates anarchy. The so called mass death was caused by groups still trying to restablish government, not by anarchists. If anarchy was "proclaimed" or government was extinguished with popular support, it would be business as usual, except prices would fall according to taxes forgone.
Remember that Somalia was war afflicted because of government, the only institution capable of mass war, because it is exploitative.

D12 said...

I read this a couple of years ago and thats were my previous comment came from, even if I didnt recall it explicitly:
http://mises.org/daily/2066
"A democratic government has every power to exert dominion over people. To fend off the possibility of being dominated, each clan tries to capture the power of that government before it can become a threat. Those clans that didn't share in the spoils of political power would realize their chances of becoming part of the ruling alliance were nil. Therefore, they would rebel and try to secede. That would prompt the ruling clans to use every means to suppress these centrifugal forces… in the end all clans would fight with one another." (van Notten, 136; 2005)

Alrenous said...

Thanks for the link, definitely worth my time.

"A person without a jilib is unthinkable, an outlaw, because he is not insured against liabilities he might incur toward others. Hence he loses all protection of the law."

Exactly what I said, albeit our biases are in the same direction.


Change in power causes chaos roughly proportional to the gradient of change. In a highly sophisticated society such as ours, many people's live depend on implicit social structures and strictures which cannot withstand much chaos.

So no, we would not die in the crossfire of tribal war. We would die from diseases from backed up sewage. Or backed up roads, or brownouts during winter. Or the failure of subtle safeguards I can only guess at, that often weren't even meant to be safeguards.

Somalia is mainly pastoral. Bloggers' provinces are mainly not.


Less interestingly, I'm not aware of any place where anarchy could be established without provoking someone to strive for the empty seat. I'm still flabbergasted that Somalia hasn't been invaded.

Alrenous said...

Similarly, I'm not aware of any place without close-knit tribal communities. Close enough, at any rate.

D12 said...

I think you kinda missed my point. The hole loss of life when going anarchic in Somalia was because the Somalians did not want anarchy, many still aspired for statist ownership over the other tribes.
What happend was a State failure. Something very different would be a State substitution by Statelesness.
Of course substitution implies compliance by the general population. But a stateless order can only exist where such implicit or expllicit popular support exists.
Think of it this way: a part of Hungary wants to became Stateless, implying there is popular support. There would be no deaths nor battle, shortages of chaos. The problem is still the central government, that wants to keep taxing that part of Hungary, so it can even fund local statists groups to do their biding at stablishing local monopoly of use of violence.
What happend in Somalia was much similar. Some tribes decided for sharia law, others for jilib. The Central government and groups attached, or aspiring to become head of State, were trying to restablish that order by attacking "tradicional law" security forces, trying to weaken them "conquering" monopoly.
What do you think would have being of the American Revolution if the English didn't intervene in any way? Would it peaceful? Would there be chaos, mayhem, shortages of essentials or just business as usual?

Alrenous said...

Ah, yes.

I discounted out of hand the idea of an orderly changeover (==small power gradient) because it will never happen. Human beings are too placid and cowardly.

I should have been thinking about that explicitly.

Either the state uses its capacity for violence to retain control, or else it cannot use violence only because it is collapsing.

Or, in the case of America's independence, it was not the people's choice. The good sir Washington, or one of his backers, decided they wanted American for themselves, staged a rebellion, and succeeded. In this case, the people's placidity worked for Washington instead of for London.

The people always follow a leader. London was foolish to think the Americans wouldn't just follow the closest one, to think they could project their presence all the way across the Atlantic when crossings took months.

I have every reason to believe that London at the time was, once alerted, perfectly aware of this dynamic, and insofar as it was able, responded accordingly.

D12 said...

Well, your own analysis of the American Revolution implicitly contradicts your exclusion of a internally peaceful change to stateless social order.
See, people, even by complacency, supported the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Glorious Revolution and by Heavens, even the Cuban Revolution and the Iran islamic revolution. All of them were not peaceful thought, and I say most of it was becouse they were all statist revolutions. They assumed the need of statist domain of the population, even if such State was now ruled by a majority or more able and pious leaders.
If there was a Stateless Revolution, diverging minority groups would be spared of agression proportionally to the threat they pose to the new order.
That is in contrast to most the other revolutions, were such groups as nobles, current governments and supporters or religious groups were considered inherently the enemy and had no choice but fight for their lives.
In that way the American Revolution in most similar to a Natural Social Order Revolution. Do you see how the only agression was from "foreign forces" and not internal groups being threatened out of existence?
Of course some think the Natural Order must exclude some groups as threats and could cause considerable damage. But again the Stateless society is one were there is passion for the rule of Law and due process, different from frantic mass democratic genocide of the enemies of religion, race or State.
Note how the American Revolution was completely "internally" peaceful. How the colonies banded together under the same ideals, instead of fighting ferouciously for dominance of one over the other, even as they had diferent interests in foreign trade or war.
The conclusion is that the Somalian situation was a State Failure in stablishig much sought after monopoly. That is completely different from a popular State "dissolvement". Think of it the difference between a couples break-up when one start hating the other (a hate break-up) and a break-up when both dont feel it is working anymore (just a sad break-up, without much fight).

Alrenous said...

"Note how the American Revolution was completely "internally" peaceful. How the colonies banded together under the same ideals, instead of fighting ferouciously for dominance of one over the other, even as they had diferent interests in foreign trade or war."

I don't known many of the details of this revolution. I do know there were an awful lot of royalists, which strongly suggests this characterization is an oversimplification.

And my point is that there will always be foreign forces, unless those forces just collapsed.

Alrenous said...

Thinking about it some more, here's an example.

Canada performs a slow, steady, peaceful conversion to anarchy, starting today. However, at least in the short term, this means the army is disbanding and being absorbed by the market.

The problem is that the US will shortly have to invade, because if they wait too long, Russia will start going all Georgia on the arctic circle. Canada has far too many strategic points to allow both parties to let it remain in military doubt.

This logic may be warped somewhat by the presence of nukes, but what I really want to know is what's warping it in the presence of Somalia.

If American had gone anarchic instead of republican, England would still have launched a fleet, even if simply to forestall France and Spain.