August 6, 2007

Son of Anarcho Capitalism

We dabbled a bit in the far reaches of liberty theory last month, thanks to papers on Anarcho Capitalism provided by ThreeSources brother Harrison Bergeron. I had a good time, but remained unconvinced.

Peter Leeson, who wrote one of the papers in question has a commentary on Cato's Unbound section on the topic. If you did not read the paper, be sure to at least read this. It is interesting and it pushes one's notions of the purpose of government (hat-tip to Everyday Economist).

I was thinking about this as I read Michael Barone's "Our First Revolution" (review). Leeson opens his second paragraph invoking Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes wrote Leviathan in 1651, after the civil was and beheading of Charles I. He discusses Bellum omnium contra omnes and, famously, describes "the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Among Hobbes's complaints is that the environment made wealth creation impossible. This got me thinking of Deepak Lal's Liberal International Economic Orders and the first logarithmic rise in wealth under Pax Britannia.

I don't think I'll join Hobbes in the call for a strong sovereign, but I take his description to heart and cannot be moved by Leeson's descriptions of success in Somalia.

In a recent study I compared Somali welfare under anarchy to welfare under government using all key development indicators for which data allowed comparison.[15] According to the data, of the eighteen development indicators, fourteen show unambiguous improvement under anarchy. Life expectancy is higher today than was in the last years of government’s existence; infant mortality has improved twenty-four percent; maternal mortality has fallen over thirty percent; infants with low birth weight has fallen more than fifteen percentage points; access to health facilities has increased more than twenty-five percentage points; access to sanitation has risen eight percentage points; extreme poverty has plummeted nearly twenty percentage points; one year olds fully immunized for TB has grown nearly twenty percentage points, and for measles has increased ten; fatalities due to measles have dropped thirty percent; and the prevalence of TVs, radios, and telephones has jumped between three and twenty-five times.

You'll pardon me for suggesting that improvement over 1990s Somalia is a pretty low bar. I appreciate Leeson's points as academics and philosophy. When people seriously suggest them as an improvement or a blueprint for the governments in the US or Western Europe, I balk (as does Leeson).
Sadly, well-functioning, well-constrained governments like the ones we observe in the U.S. and western Europe are not part of this choice set. Ultra-predatory, corrupt, and abusive governments, however, are. And so is anarchy. As Somalia’s experience illustrates, for many LDCs with these limited options anarchy may very well be the best feasible choice.

Philosophy Posted by John Kranz at August 6, 2007 7:33 PM

Until the people of Somalia are ready to take on the responsibility of an enlightened, Western-style government, what else is there to do but accept the fact that functional anarchy has improved the lives of the people? Most attempts to install democracy in countries that aren't ready for it results in military coups or the dissolution of order--the leaders have little concept of accountability and responsibility and the people have no faith in the system to hold the leaders accountable. The Cato Unbound lead essay isn't saying that anarchy is preferable to a stable, functioning democracy (it specifically rejects that idea) but that there may be times in the development of a people from totalitarianism to enlightenment where anarchy is a necessary step--more or less the same argument I make in my blog in response to the lead essay.

Posted by: Jim at August 7, 2007 2:30 PM

Jim: I absolutely agree. Anarchy is superior to bad government and many people would likely be far better off were Castro, Mugabe, (your favorite despot here) replaced with "None of the above" (Chavez would be a draw).

I hope I am not putting words into people's mouths, but some frequent guests of ours around here were making the case that Anarcho Capitalism was a good model for developed countries.

Posted by: jk at August 7, 2007 3:29 PM

Ok, I get it then. I'm a libertarian, but have a difficult time fathoming such concepts as an anarchy-based coordinated national defense in this modern age of warfare. Pirates, the example used in Cato Unbound, had numerous advantages from a self-preservation standpoint that an anarchist territory would not.

Posted by: Jim at August 7, 2007 4:26 PM

I might be overstating others' positions.

I get in trouble around here because -- while I yield to no one in respect for market economics -- I have an almost Hamiltonian belief that freedom and abundance grow best in an orderly universe.

Posted by: jk at August 7, 2007 5:27 PM | What do you think? [4]