Bryan Caplan  

Descent into Warlordism

The Real Cause of Market Failu... Anarchists Anthropomorphizing ...

Arnold writes:

Warlordism means a situation in which there is no rule of law. A warlord rules by rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies.


To break a warlord equilibrium, you need government. That is the Hobbesian solution--a Leviathan that is capable of suppressing the "war of all against all."

I fail to see how getting a Leviathan counts as "breaking" a warlord equilibrium. Why shouldn't it simply be described as "accepting" a warlord equilibrium - you quit resisting the rule of the most powerful warlord, and let him run things?

Arnold admittedly mentions the "rule of law," but neither Hobbes' Leviathan nor most governments throughout history do well by this measure. "But some have," you say? Question: If you can occasionally get a Leviathan to respect the rule of law despite its monopoly, why couldn't you get comparable or better behavior from competing firms - firms that might lose your patronage if they mistreat you?

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
ziel writes:

I think what's missing in this analysis is the powerful force that warlords feed off of - tribalism. Warlords tend to represent tribes or coalitions of tribes ("extended" tribes). So "friends" and "enemies" suggests too fluid a set of relationships. If a warlord extends his power, it will be to benefit his tribe at the expense of another tribe. Leviathan, on the other hand, must tap into some other force - and that would be nationalism. If Leviathan is to rule effectively, he must convince the people that nation trumps tribe. This is essentially what happened in the growth of the European nation states.
The rule of law doesn't stand a chance in a tribal country. Nationalism allows the rule of law - as a national institution - to thrive since it supercedes tribal loyalties. Nationalism goes bad when the uniting force morphs into an ideology - Nazism and Communism subsumed the nation-state as an institution, and the rule of law with it.
With all due respect, I don't think economics provides an effective model for understanding the basis of central government.

Bill Stepp writes:

The Anarchist Antidefamation League agrees with Bryan here. Why can't a warlord equilibrium replace an equilibrium of states, or augment it? Indeed, if a state is defined as an organization that (1) has a monopoly of force over an arbitarily circumscribed geograpical area (a Weberian protection racket) and (2) obtains its resources by coercion (a Menckenian-Rothbardian pillage broker), in what sense is a warlord not a head of state? Just because states are recognized by the "international community" and warlords aren't doesn't confer more or even any legitimacy on the former, at least not to anarchists. And just because the turf warlords have to defend is perhaps more likely to shift doesn't mean that states don't face the same twin problems of defense and coalition building.

In the case of Somalia, the warlords operating in the South have been propped up by UN aid; and tribal law still exists and works well in some areas.
And in what sense was Bush not acting as a warlord when he ordered the invasion of Iraq?
Were there any constitutional constraints operating to check his high-handed power grab?

John Thacker writes:

And in what sense was Bush not acting as a warlord when he ordered the invasion of Iraq?
Were there any constitutional constraints operating to check his high-handed power grab?

You mean other than Congress voting to authorize it?

Deb McAdams writes:

Protection from local street thugs comes from the competing security firms.

Protection from an alliance of French and Germans that would like to appropriate your home comes from ??????

Another economy of scale for protection firms is that they have to be big enough to defend against their biggest neighbor.

Bill Stepp writes:

As Twain pointed out, Congress is the only native
American criminal class. Were he alive now, I think he'd add the executive branch.

Bill Stepp writes:

The vote by Congress to authorize war was taken before the UN Security Council thought force was necessary, and it was taken several months before the US military machine was even in position to
The Constitution clearly delegates the war making power to Congress, not the President.
Bush usurped this power.

Matt writes:

This is really, really stupid. Bryan is going to re-write the greatest piece of English language political philosophy because of an intro-to-econ insight.

The field of IR explores the question of whether uni-polar or bi-polar world orders are more stable (i.e. safe), and the conclusion is clear. Even a cursory examination of states where citizens have failed to fully "accept" the "dominant warlord" - Iraq, Bolivia, Venezuela, BH, Gaza - shows this to be true inside the confines of the state as well.

George Weinberg writes:

"Warlord" is just another word for dictator. "Warlordism" (= dicatorship) isn't something distinct from government, it's a form of government, and by far the most common form.

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