Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Self-Imploding Somalia Meme

In a blog post containing a video with Jeffrey Miron giving his short exposition of libertarianism over at Reason, a nay-sayer invoked the often expounded upon Somalia meme:

I suspect Somalia & other failed states must be very good approximations of pure libertarianism in action.

I've seen people fight in both directions regarding the Somalia argument (if one considers it a legitimate argument at all) but I've seen very few people bring up what I would consider to be the largest flaw in the famous analogy. I responded to the aforementioned comment:

No one should probably have to say this out loud; but since many non-libertarians like to invoke Somalia, I guess it warrants saying:

There's something to be said for transition. Even if we were to assume that Somalia is completely devoid of government (which is a bit of a stretch if you actually know anything about the region) no one is proclaiming that if you move from a strong state to the absence of one in the shadow of the night that it's going to be all rainbows and unicorns.

Part of a state's general purpose is to hold monopolies or semi-monopolies on institutions that presuppose the need for it (law, education, defense, etc.). If you take what exists of a free market and quickly strip it of institutions that it was functionally integrated with you can't exactly expect perfect replacement institutions to organically and immediately take their place.

For instance, if government claimed a monopoly on food production and the government magically dissolved overnight, I would not expect that we would magically have a broad chain of food distribution set up the next day. Couple that with the harassment and tribal rule of warlords who have now partitioned and assumed control of the massive arms that your once revered state had accumulated, and now we have some additional issues.

To put it bluntly, pointing to Somalia as an example of why small-to-no-government can't work is like pointing to a combustion engine dying on an empty tank of gas and telling me that engines that don't use gas can't work.

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