In a previous post, I used the presence of roads in Somalia to show how there doesn’t need to be government to have roads. However, there is some government in Somalia (they just aren’t building very many roads). The argument caters to the people who use Somalia as an example of what happens when there’s anarchy, but really, that is incorrect.
Anarchy, in its true, literal sense, refers to the absence of rulers. There are various philosophical interpretations depending on who (or as my grandmother says “whom”) you ask, but most will accept that anarchy requires that there be no rulers. That’s not what has been going on in Somalia, which is therefore not an example of anarchy. It is an example of a socialist failed state. Somalia can hardly be considered an example of the dangers of limited or no government when it’s actually its bad socialist policies that caused its failure. If anything, it shows how government can run a state into the ground and result in chaos (not the same as anarchy). Rather, saying that Somalia is a Libertarian Paradise is like saying that North Korea is a paradise for Democratic Republicans. Additionally, Somalia did not actually just get rid of its “state”. It got rid of its federal government and broke apart into many smaller states. Equating that to anarchism is like thinking that burning down a church will lead to atheism in the town (I stole that idea from Stefan Molyneux, a jerk, but a smart one).
Note: A failed state could potentially turn into a great libertarian or anarchist society; options for creating a libertarian society are discussed here.
During the instability in Somalia leading up to the mid-1990s, exacerbated by U.S. military troops in the UNISOM I, UNITAF and UNISOM II engagements, Somalia became the exact opposite of anarchy. Instead, it became a hotbed of different governments all vying for absolute power over Somalia. That’s not anarchy, that’s warlordism.
While Somalians do benefit from some market freedoms like minimal or nonexistent taxation (depending on where one lives and who rules there) and relatively free trade, these benefits are overshadowed by the constant warring of various warlords (small-time dictators) and the impending doom of One State to Rule them All.
Despite the constant warring, including Ethiopa’s 2006 US-pressured proxy invasion of Somalia, which resulted in the deaths of 16,210 civilians, 29,000 wounded civilians and 1.9 million displaced civilians from Mogadishu alone in 2007, some good things were still happening in the absence of a true state.
Because the various powers in Somalia were focused on each other, individuals had room to grow. It turns out that Somalia was probably better off in a (comparatively) stateless world, according to a 2007 paper written for the Journal of Comparative Economics. Life expectancy is higher now than when there was a unified government. Infant mortality has improved 24%. Maternity mortality has fallen over 30%. Infants with low birth weight has fallen over 15%. Access to health facilities has increased over 25%. Access to sanitation has risen 8%. Extreme poverty has decreased almost 20%. Access to radios, televisions and telephones has jumped between 3 and 25 times. Here is a table from the paper that shows the economic indicators that were considered. Leeson, the author of the paper, stated that many economic indicators improved during the era of statelessness, compared to its neighbors. See this article on Reason.com for a summary of the paper.
The BBC published a series of articles commemorating 20 years of statelessness in Somalia. One of these points out that while common sense might dictate that security and stability are necessary to economic development, Somalia has had “resilience” and has shown “remarkable growth” despite the fact that it has had neither security nor stability. For example, the first cell phone tower went up in 1994, and now people can make a cell phone call from anywhere in the country; that’s more than can be said for the United States, which still has frustrating outages even in heavily populated areas, depending on your carrier.
Things are not all sunshine and roses however. Somalia is a violent, dangerous place, and people still have difficulty accessing clean water in many areas. I wouldn’t move there. However, since the successes that Somalia has had can’t be attributed to the warlords and wars in Somalia, it must be that those things occurred despite the profluence of various governments overcrowding the country. With just a little extra freedom in some areas, Somalia was able to do surprisingly well, especially given their limited resources, education, technology and wealth. Imagine what true statelessness could accomplish in somewhere like the United States, with our education, technology, resources and wealth.
So, Somalia is not truly in a state of anarchy. They have rulers. It happens to be, however, that those rulers are primarily focused on destroying and dominating each other, which has allowed for some some of the interesting results mentioned above.
The previous information is a few years old, however. How are things doing more recently? In August 2011, the militant group al Shabaab left Mogadishu, often referred to as “the world’s most dangerous city”. Without rulers, however, the city saw an economic boom. Not only that, but the people are optimistic.
Imagine what could be done in a place where people understood the value of free trade and no regulation.