[Updates below. Bad link fixed.]
If you travel in the same circles as I do, it is merely a matter of time before someone's political opponents (or your own political opponents) either calls you "anarchist" derisively or dismisses a pro-anarchy position with a reference to Somalia. The latter being the more common in my experience, it is usually written in a manner similar to the following:
Hey, you hate government so bad, why not just pack up your stuff and move to Somalia? Total free market over there, man. No nasty state bothering your greedy ass for taxes and paperwork. No irritating cops. No one making sure drugs are safe to use. No one to maintain the roads. No prisons to put criminals in for there wouldn't be any laws to make criminals out of killers, rapists, or robbers. No one but yourself, all the guns you could want, and several thousand others equally well-armed and just as hungry and poor as you. Give no-government Somalia a shot! It's an anarchist's utopia!
I consider this analogy flawed. It assumes both that this is what an anarcho-capitalist society would necessarily look like and that government is the only entity that can effectively do certain important and necessary functions.
Do the people living in the geographic area we call Somalia exist in an anarchist society, a society without a state? If so, does the nature of that anarchist society conform to or resemble what market anarchists would ideally want society to be?
What constitutes anarchy? You can define the same thing in many ways, but this seems the most effective for the moment:
- A number of people voluntarily living amongst each other without an entity forcing or coercing individuals within that group into doing things they don't want to do.
That definition, I believe, should be accepted by a broad majority of free market anarchists because it hits at the heart of the issue: the immoral, unjustified, counterproductive, and harmful initiation of force. Individualist anarchists
consider this the fundamental principle at stake, and the main reason why they have trouble associating with "limited government" libertarians and Objectivists in some instances. Both groups tend to advocate state involvement in some parts of our lives, and even though it's to a dramatically reduced level compared to things as they are now in the United States, it still violates the principle.
It doesn't help your drive to argue when folks normally on your side jump ship and join your common opponents. Briefly browsing through any market anarchist/libertarian blog or discussion forum and you'll see this very argument being played out regularly. And it's in these arguments that Somalia is often brought up. It's used as a smug means of ending all debate on that subject and should be a corollary to Godwin's Law.
I don't really know that much about Somalia. My father was on active duty in the Army when the infamous Black Hawk Down event occurred. My family was stationed in Hawaii and getting ready to move to Kentucky. I was 13 or 14 at the time and didn't give a damn about the story, which I considered unimportant after watching Desert Storm on TV a few years before. I have little historical background to refer to and I haven't examined the situation closely.
So it was interesting to come across this article, published April 5 by EastAfrican columnist Abdulkadir Khalif:
Extreme Capitalism is Exciting But Dangerous
One of these days - sooner rather than later, one fervently hopes - we will have a new Somali government to oversee the affairs of a country that has undergone a decade of social, economic and political turmoil!
The new team, made up of a president, a 275-member parliament and executive Cabinet ministers, interim in nature though its mandate will be (currently, a 4-year transitional period is envisaged), will find a Herculean task awaiting it.
For starters, they will have to regulate and bring order and good governance to one of the most complex economic systems on earth - part private, part underground, part unscrupulous and totally unregulated.
Quite obviously, the author of this opinion isn't satisfied with the way things are now.
Somalia today is the most capitalist of societies anywhere and at any time in history. Without any state to speak of, markets have run hog wild. The US, the strongest advocate of free markets, looks like communist Cuba in comparison with the freewheeling ways of Mogadishu.
I've got to give Mr. Khalif credit for understanding the fundamental issue here. In an individualist anarchy, nothing and no service is forcefully prohibited from experiencing open market forces of supply and demand. In his mind, a full and complete application of capitalist beliefs necessarily leads to a system without a state involvement in human life. I bet more than a supermajority of alleged free market-supporting Republicans and Democrats won't remotely come close to this level of noncontradictory advocacy.
Arms and ammunitions are sold in open-air markets known as cirtoogte. Neither buyers nor sellers show any care for the often densely inhabited neighbourhoods around them as prospective clients try out the guns by firing bursts into the air. The crackling sound of gunfire can scare newcomers, but for residents it is a background noise, most even having no trouble sleeping through the intermittent, deafening fusillades.
Insecurity creates spikes in demand for handguns like the G3, AK47 and M16, which generally fetching higher prices whenever factions or clan militias take each other on. Middlemen representing the warlords, carrying large sums in cash, frequent the corner of the market devoted to heavier artillery, mostly anti-aircraft guns.
Aside from the fact that the G3
, and M16
aren't handguns (perhaps this is a translation problem), this seems largely right to me. I still have some questions to work out in regards to noise ordinances
which would apply here, but I see no innate anarcho-libertarian disagreement with this picture.
Oddly, enough, the men engaged in the arms trade look upon it as just another business activity designed to yield the best return on investment. It will be up to the new government to neutralise this unique market and perhaps channel the capital of these merchants of death into less destructive avenues of profit-seeking.
Why does Mr. Khalif think it's odd that the people selling weapons and the people buying them look upon the market "as just another business activity designed to yield the best return on investment"? That's the whole point of engaging in voluntary trade
When I go to the grocery store to buy food, I want to spend my money on the things closest to what I want and want to do so without waste. When someone runs a grocery store, he or she want to sell items within the store at the best possible price to attract customers and still make a profit. In both cases, the two people are looking to come out ahead, even after taking into account the costs we pay to arrange and make the deal. If I felt that I would get less than what I was asked to pay for, I'd go somewhere else. If he felt that my money wasn't at least enough to make up for the costs he's already endured getting that item to his shelves, he won't do business. Yes, there are some exceptions to these ideas, but they don't affect the general relevance of voluntary trade.
Some may consider the act of buying and selling dangerous objects - such as firearms or explosives - odd, not normal, out of the ordinary. Some may even consider it to be distasteful or disgraceful. But a market arises when there are human desires so strong they bring two people together to trade for what the other has. The act of trading shouldn't bother anyone, as all participants freely work together for mutual benefit. It results from the same driving force in all human action: the move from the status quo towards a more satisfactory environment and life.
Should businessmen have certain opinions on the business they are involved in depending on the things they sell? A shop selling local art has products that serve far different ends than one that sells quality surface-to-air missiles. Most goods and services in a peaceful economy are not designed to kill or maim humans or destroy their property. In a society where there is no government to employ police officers and a military to enforce a single set of rules for all, people would have to contract out their defense and retaliation if they felt it necessary. Private defense agencies would spring up to offer various services. But since anyone would be free to own weapons, it seems impossible to assume a thriving market for such products wouldn't develop. So it's likely in an anarcho-capitalist society of significant size, the market for weapons would be larger than it currently is, because the demand would exist and there wouldn't be any state-enforced barriers to ownership. Keep in mind it is conceivable that some arms dealers would institute their own rules of doing business with customers, potentially setting self-imposed age and competency requirements.
In any event, I can understand how it would seem callous and flippant to be in the gun-running business and flatly not give a damn about the purpose of your market. Human death and pain are things we wish to avoid, and it seems like arms dealers encourage them. To be honest, however, the merchant wouldn't exist without it's clientele and it's for the negative reasons his clientele may have that should be condemned: intentional murder or armed robbery for instance.
Importers of medicines bring in containers filled with a wide range of stuff from antihistamines to antibiotics and expectorants. These drugs are sourced from all sorts of places, but their composition and shelf life are increasingly doubtful. The new rulers will have to install public analysts to ensure the safety of these drugs.
An unregulated society like Somalia's is particularly attractive for charlatans who claim they can cure any illness including cancer and Aids (and, of course, impotence). Then there the one hundred and one lab technicians and pharmacists in each neighbourhood testing blood and stool and dispensing sophisticated drugs. One wonders where on earth are the colleges that are churning out this dynamic cohort with all the expertise it claims in medical science and technology.
Much of what I said regarding arms dealers can be applied to this as well. People want medicines and people want to provide them in order to benefit. Some of those people engage the market for fraudulent reasons. Allow the players in the market to correct these problems. Eventually the frauds selling pressed placebos and common chemicals will earn a reputation as such and the information will spread. Reputations matter, even in restricted markets. The freer the markets, the easier that information (manifested in the form of prices) can spread.
This isn't going to lead to utopia and I am not implying that it will. But I do believe that if left alone, there will be a general leveling tendency towards more just exchanges.
Yes, there is a lot of dynamism in the people of Somalia as they translate everything into market opportunities. Manufactured goods, natural resources, crime, leadership, security are all, therefore, activities capable of producing profits.
Again, I have to give Mr. Khalif credit for understanding this. Even if it was probably written sarcastically.
Somalia, one of the few African countries self-sufficient in food at the time of independence, has now become a net importer. Food items enter the market in boxes, tins, and sachets, all claiming to contain all sorts of goodies enriched with vitamins, proteins and what not to attract consumers. No tests of their fitness for human consumption are ever done - for toxins, GM content or nutritional adequacy. So Somalia urgently needs a Bureau of Standards.
No, the people of Somalia need to start respecting and defining their property rights
. One of the things some commenters either forget or choose to ignore when arguing with anarcho-capitalists is the society they envision has a great respect for private property. This respect would necessarily transcend the respect we have in the US for property rights (already higher than in most parts of the world). To get to that point, though, the people of Somalia need to extract themselves from violent chaos. It may take a few generations to get past the emotional tar baby.
Once that happens, most of that productive effort wasted on violence will go towards the peaceful consumer economy.
Experts estimate that Somalia has well over 40 million heads of livestock, mainly camels, cattle, goats and sheep. The Horn of Africa's unique semi-arid ecosystem, dominated by open grassland savannah and rocky escarpments, is ideally suited to sustain such high-density livestock. The country is equally rich in fish resources, 180,000 metric tonnes of which can be exploited per annum without endangering stocks. Enlightened policies are needed to smoothen investment here and chase away the "sharks" - the hundreds of foreign trawlers that are illegally camped in Somalia's unpoliced waters, ruthlessly depleting its fish stocks and using hired militias to neutralise opposition from local fishermen.
This fishing thing is also a property rights issue. Who owns the land those fish are on? Mr. Khalif doesn't mention this and it is crucial. If I own that land, I'd be aware of the tremendous opportunities at my fingertips. I could allow people to fish as long as they payed a fee. Poachers would be chased off because I'd value the business. The biggest problem seems to be startup capital for investment in such a business infrastructure. If no such local investors are available or willing to do business, then turn to the external banking community. If that doesn't work, then change your plans to reduce the risk that is frightening the investors off.
Collective ownership, even with someone that appears as innocent and simple as "enlightened policies" won't solve the problem. It just socializes the costs of protecting the fish, policy that is corrosive in the long run.
However, competition in the vibrant information technology and mass communications markets is already benefiting local people with some of the region's lowest prices for phoning, faxing, e-mailing, etc, while people everywhere can tune into local FM radios for news and entertainment. But this is Somalia, where a dash of anarchy is mandatory in each sector; here, it takes the form of multiple companies using former state telephone and electricity poles in a such a way that wires of all colours and diameters are intertwined like tricolore pasta in a cooking pot.
Warms my cold heart, this does.
The free market has created the most ridiculous opportunities. Gun wielding young men demanding leejo (payoffs) prey on every business under the sun. Transporters and commuter buses are favourite victims, with roadblocks being erected at random across country roads and town streets. In the towns, however, the once common "custom" of threatening drivers by pointing a gun at their heads has been phased out nowadays. Instead, harmless looking, empty-handed young men approach vehicles demanding payment. Conductors give up the cash without protest, knowing that failure to do will lead to a size 8 nail bolted to a piece of wood being slipped under their tyres, when they are not looking.
These days, the crime market is limitless. Who has not heard the rumours of teenaged "contract" kidnappers who deliver their hostage to older hostage-takers for $500 apiece, whereupon the "professionals" take over and extort ransoms ranging from $10,000 from wealthy parents? Forgers at the Abdalaa-shideeye "documentation centre" run off state and municipal documents, including title deeds, at the snap of a finger.
I have no easy solution to this. Perhaps a commenter would like a go at it?
Security firms on the free market would obviously be able to provide services to those who wanted them. If the current crop of firms is too corrupt, like-minded people are likely to band together and form their own firm and protect themselves and others who wanted real service. Worries about private militias dominating the public with constant warfare are misplaced because such warfare is expensive in both human and financial terms. Security firms won't be able to conduct operations 'round the clock because it's counter-productive to their long-term business vitality.
But I'm open to opposing argument.
A position in the council of ministers is a market opportunity too. That is why all politically ambitious people seem to want a Cabinet made up of hundreds of ministers, each standing for one of the nearly 200 clans this nation is blessed with.
Ah, the looters are eager to get to work. Better to remove that incentive entirely. :)
The market mentality has affected everything. All premises belonging to the former government were "privatised" by individuals who grabbed them after they had been looted and partially destroyed. The new landlords generally found good use for the premises by leasing them to internally displaced people who had fled their home villages, towns and pastoral areas to escape the clan wars.
Countless other private properties have been grabbed and rented out. How quickly and efficiently a new government restores property rights and repossesses grabbed properties will determine its effectiveness.
This sounds like the normal functioning of a society's members who want to lead productive and happy lives. Once the state is gone, all it's prior property is up for grabs. The smarter people will try to make some economic use out of it since it gives them a tremendous advantage over others trying to enter the market: no up front capital costs for your building(s).
It's the delineation and possession of the non-government property that will cause much of the problems. The fishing example above is illustrative.
Expectations will be high in a society that has lost practically all basic infrastructure and been relegated to the 19th century by nearly two decades of bitter civil conflict. One can only urge the new rulers to stimulate and regulate the market and entrepreneurial skills of the people, if rapid progress is to be achieved.
I say let Somalia continue on as it is and let people work out their problems and grow their society. The violence must stop before serious development can occur, I agree, but I can't see a way to quell it externally without breaking a principle or two. Perhaps outsiders could come in at the request of a group to establish a small safe area that can be widened as peaceful people migrate there.
Otherwise, gangster capitalism will merely be replaced by multinationals and other global opportunists.
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Otherwise, market anarchy will merely be replaced by gangster African government. People should be forced to satisfy the needs of others, directly or indirectly.
So, do I consider Somalia to be an anarchy? From just reading this article, I'd say it might as well be. Does it exist in a form that individualist anarchists want their ideal society to be? Not quite, because private property is routinely disrespected and there is too much violence and coercion in the streets. The state is essentially gone, but that isn't the only condition anarcho-libertarians want for that society. Stronger foundations of civilization are desired before the great weight of culturally acknowledged complete personal responsibility can be allowed to happen.
Praise be to Erik for giving me the inspiration to consider this topic in a deeper format. I invite questions, comments, and polite disagreement. I'm still gathering steam in reading anarchist background literature, so I probably could have voiced my opinions more comprehensively. I may return to this in a year or so to see how I've changed.
I ran across this Atlantic article published in May of 2001 that's worth reading. While the title of "Ayn Rand Comes to Somalia" isn't exactly true, it certainly describes how things have been developing.