Somalia: failed state, economic success?

Via the Anarcho-Transhumanism blog, here’s an interesting article that examines Somalia’s fate since the fall of Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991, and which points out that – despite a lack of central governance – Somalia’s economy has actually improved somewhat:

It is hard to call any country mired in poverty an economic success. Yet by most measures Somalia’s poverty is diminishing and Somalia has improved living standards faster than the average sub-Saharan African country since the early 1990s. In that sense Somalia is at least a relative success story. The most interesting part of Somalia’s success is that it has all been achieved while the country has lacked any effective central government.

For many, the “A” word—anarchy—conjures up notions of chaos. For others it simply means the absence of a single government ruling a geographic area. In this second sense, Somalia has been in a state of anarchy since the fall of Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991. The result has been, in general, economic development rather than chaos—although there certainly have been chaotic periods. The interesting questions are how has development been promoted and what has caused the chaos.

You’re probably thinking “Somalia – that’s the place with the pirates, right?” Correct:

Although they are a concern, this is not merely a symptom of a “failed state,” as many media reports make it out to be. In one sense, that the piracy is committed against passing foreign vessels is a tribute to the internal effectiveness of Somali customary law. The pirates are well-armed and obviously not hesitant to use violence. Yet they do not plunder Somali ships. What’s more, they interact peacefully with other Somali when they are on land. Although the total number of pirates is small, it has been estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 people are employed by the pirates indirectly in related industries such as boat repair, security, and food provision. (Other enterprising Somalis have set up special restaurants to cater to the hostages.) That pirates use voluntary market transactions to purchase goods and services on land, rather than pillage, provides some evidence that Somali law is fairly robust if even these otherwise violent people respect it when conducting their internal affairs.

Now, neither I or the authors of that article are suggesting that life in Somalia is a basket of peaches, or that a collapse of central governance is de facto a good or desirable thing. But the figures and social phenomena discussed would certainly suggest that a state of political anarchy doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a Hobbesian ‘natural’ lifestyle, and that systems for managing conflict and economics have a way of emerging from the bottom up.

Go read the whole thing.