Saturday, February 13, 2010

The latest on my views on Somalia

P.T. Leeson, an economist of the Austrian bent, wrote an article a few years ago titled, "Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse" where he presents a persuasive case that much of the world would be better off without a government, judging from the case of Somalia. Since the time he wrote this article, things have changed a great deal.

The existence of even one government, especially a democratic government, is a threat to freedom everywhere. Hoppe says something to the effect that, in a private law society, crime insurance agencies would charge higher premiums in areas that are next to government-controlled territory. He reasons that government employees would likely be categorized, for crime insurance purposes, the same as other criminals... it would be difficult for a government employee to live in a decent neighborhood in free territory because no one would want to be neighbors with him because their premiums would go up.

What's amazing is that Somalia's recent history has really borne this conception out. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Barre regime, warlords took control of Somalia. The US tried to "correct" this "problem", through UN agency, via our involvement there during the early 90's. We got run out on a rail by Aidid culminating in our withdrawal after the tragic Black Hawk Down incident. For some time during the 90's, UN intervention in Somalia was extremely limited and the Somali economy began to heal, with education rates and nourishment increasing at an extremely rapid pace (check out PT Leeson's paper on this, Better Off Stateless). In 2006, Ethiopia, then, tried to invade but they were repelled. This resulted in a splintering of the ICU, and the new proto-governmental group called al-Shabaab.

The most recent battles over Mogadishu have been the result of -- surprise surprise! -- the attempt to impose a "real state" on Somalia from above, by the miserably underfunded AU and its "AMISOM" troops, mostly rerun Ethiopians who got their butts kicked out last time they tried to invade. After months of not being paid, some of the AMISOM soldiers have sold their weapons to buy food, which should give you an idea of the level of willpower the AU has in this mission. The al-Shabaab and other ICU groups smell blood in the water and the AU's meddling in Somalia has created a "capture the flag" atmosphere in Somalia... each group maneuvering itself to be in the best position to project governmental power if and when a government is "created" - aka "imposed" - in Somalia. But most remarkable is that the Somalis have treated the UN/AU's "Transitional Federal Government" as a mortal threat rather than buying into the benign administrative cloak with which the TFG has tried to wrap itself. One TFG emissary to the UN said (paraphrase), "They are trying to kill this baby in the cradle. al-Shabaab knows that if this thing takes hold it will become a government and they want to prevent that from happening." But, of course, it is the local al-Shabaab - not the AU's Ethiopian troops protecting a tiny garrison in Mogadishu called the "Transitional Federal Government" - who are solely to blame for the killing of innocents in Mogadishu. I'm not saying al-Shabaab gets a cart blanche by virtue of being local... if al-Shabaab kills innocents, that is as immoral as anyone else killing innocents. But al-Shabaab has a perfectly sound justification for going to war against the TFG... it's a baby government!

Unfortunately, objective material on the Islamic Courts Union seems to be in short supply. I've looked around the net and the few sources that have any interesting details describe the ICU as an "Islamist organization" which I suspect is as accurate as that label is when applied to any organization in the post-9/11 world where anything with a turban or a Q'ran is target practice for the Pentagon.

Michael van Notten moved to Somalia and was involved with Somaliland which is a region in the northernmost tip of Somalia that, even today, is largely peaceful and unmarred by the king-of-the-hill struggles going in in Mogadishu and the surrounding region. You can read his discussion of Somali law after the collapse of the Barre regime here. He has written a book which is very next on my to-read list. My understanding is that the Somali customary law system is still largely intact in the Somaliland region.

In my view, the root debate is about how law is to be administered - should law be administered by a single organization (government), empowered to settle all disputes and issue dictates (statutes)? Or, should law be administered by anyone who opens up shop to provide law services (open competition)? We in the West are so used to thinking of law as statutes - commands issued from a "higher power" - that it is difficult for us to even conceive of living in an orderly society where there is no single monopolist of law.

Why should anyone want to live in a society which is not controlled by a central monopolist of law? For the simple reason that, as Hans Hoppe notes in many places in his writings, the State is the monopolist of law even - or especially - in disputes involving itself. This is an obvious conflict of interests. You might be able to argue with the government over how much you owe in taxes, but no State court will ever seriously entertain a legal challenge to the government's right to collect taxes at all. The IRS has a pdf available that catalogs and addresses all such "frivolous tax arguments" that have been heard and dismissed by the State's courts. Of course the Courts will not bite the hand that feeds them, so they never rule against the State, even though the State's final argument for why it has the power to collect taxes ("because we said so!") is transparently self-serving. The State is also able to insist that all disputes be liable to be brought to its courts for final review, which prevents the emergence of pockets of resistance to the law monopoly, that is, the emergence of competitive law systems within the purview of the State's authority.

So, there's the long-form version of the current evolution of my views on Somalia

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