“So, libertarians don’t believe in government. Why don’t you go and live in Somalia then?”
How often have we heard that one? [OK, perhaps not that often but it does hover there at the back of your mind.] And how often have we been able to come up with a decent response beyond some coughing and spluttering?
So, it was good to see Robert Murphy giving it a go. He starts by making a good point:
The Rothbardian doesn’t claim that the absence of a state is a sufficient condition for bliss. Rather, the Rothbardian says that however prosperous and law-abiding a society is, adding an institution of organized violence and theft will only make things worse.
He then quotes the stats which apparently show rises in life expectancy and adult literacy. Which alarms me. How sure can you be that these statistics bear any relation to reality? Hey, I’m not convinced by our own government’s stats. But in a war-torn country with a multi-sided civil war? At very least they have to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Me? I would give them on credence whatsoever. My test is have any (of the surprisingly many) Somalis I know or have known in recent years expressed any desire to go back? Answer: no. Not on your Nelly.
Murphy then says this:
Farah and other advocates of a central state might retort that right now security costs are particularly high for Somali businesses because of the fighting between rival factions ("warlords") in their attempt to control the government.
So, there are rival factions/armies/gangs are there? And what, precisely, is the difference between a gang and a state? I suppose it’s to do with predictability but my guess is that after a few years any gang - so long as it is unmolested by the state - will start to establish rules and thus predictability.
Or, to put it another way: Somalia does not want for government.
This all feeds into my worries for this country. It is not difficult to see the central government collapsing but while libertarians may hope for a golden age of liberty my suspicion is that they will get gangs roaming the streets. So long as people believe in the state they will continue to create them.
Price controls and foreign exchange regulations have been abandoned. Zimbabwe literally joined the real world at the stroke of a pen. Money now flows in and out of the country without restriction. Super market shelves, bare in January, are now bursting with products.
All this after they abandoned the policies ie printing money, that we in Britain have just adopted. Are we to learn the lessons? Don't hold your breath.
I’ve been enjoying the free-market wonk tag-team ambush of Fairtrade Fortnight as evidenced by the efforts of the ASI and the Globalisation Institute’s Alex Singleton. OK, so it smacks of co-ordination and planning - precisely the sort of things that free-marketeers are not well known for - but, still: heh!
However, one really shouldn’t laugh. Alex’s piece in the Telegraph inspired this comment from Henry Cave Devine:
I was the acting Chief Exective of the largest independent coffee and tea trader in the world in the early 1990’s and found all that you have mentioned and even worse to be true. I want to highlight some of your points toward the end of your article to make clear that the mega-growers also ship and sell their lower quality beans into the Fairtrade markets through brokers and receive the subsidized “charity price” from the “socially responsible” rather unquestioning public. This is exactly what was meant to be avoided, and it is done in huge volumes.
Which he then followed up with this:
Three of my field agents were killed in 1991 because they tried to track down illegal shipments. It is a nasty business at times.
Titter ye not.
I have just finished listening to Brian Micklethwait’s podcast with Leon Leow. A bit late in the day, admittedly - it was recorded about a month ago - but none the worse for that. Actually, it’s rather better than that. It’s really very good. The centre of their discussion is Leow’s research into what makes countries rich and what makes them poor. Make that statistical research. What is interesting is that Leow sticks to the statistics even when it leads to conclusions he would normally disagree with.
The other big surprise (sort of) is education. Now, while I am against state education I am by no means against education as such. But it turns out that it either (I can’t quite remember what he said) doesn’t matter or actually makes you poorer.
A nice surprise was that race makes no difference.
The biggest factor in prosperity is the rule of law. Get that right and you should be OK. That was no surprise to me at all but it’s always nice to hear.
One of the amusing parts of the discussion was the way Leow managed to keep his temper in the face of Brian’s frequent enthusiastic interruptions. London libertarians are used to the idea that Brian’s Brain runs considerably faster than his mouth (which itself runs quite fast enough) but it can be quite disconcerting at first. So congratulations to Leon.
Update Oh crap, I’ve spent Louw wrong the whole way through.
From The Country Store