Arnold Kling  

The Somali Model

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I enjoyed Ben Powell's lecture on Somalia, although on my computer the volume was barely audible. Among the points of interest:

--cell phone spectrum is provided competitively without an FCC.
--there is competitive virtual government, in the sense that you choose your legal system by choosing a clan, and clans are not geographically based
--Somalia functions better as a non-state than it did as a state, and it functions better than many of its peers that are states.

Before you comment, please listen to the lecture.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Snorri Godhi writes:

The similarities between Viking Iceland and modern Somalia are impressive:
* "competitive virtual government" [to use Arnold's term];
* arbitration by 3rd parties chosen by agreement between the 2 sides;
* the only penalties that can be applied are compensation and outlawry;
* piracy against foreigners only [although the Icelandic Vikings had to travel a lot further to prey on foreigners].

A couple of differences comes to mind [apart from the climate]:
* Viking Icelanders were herders, but not nomads;
* Viking Iceland had a legislative body, and in this sense it was a bit less anarchical.

I'll follow developments in Somalia, as well as Ben Powell's work, with interest.
Often, states and empires have arisen in response to external pressures. So far, Somalia has repelled foreign invasions without turning into a state, as Ben Powell said; but why is that? is it because the balance of power between clans was not upset by foreign invasions?

david writes:

Anyone have a transcript? I can't hear the lecture.

Coupon_Clipper writes:

Hm, did I miss something here? We're glorifying Somalia now? "Hey everybody, look how great anarchy (or competitive gov't) works! Isn't Somalia the envy of the world?"

I'm not trying to be snarky; I just can't believe this post. Please straighten me out if I'm misunderstanding this.

Stewart Griffin writes:

In this post:, you seem to indicate that you believed that non-state law devolves into warlordism. Do you think this has happened in Somalia? Will it? Have any of your views on this changed?

Having just watched the lecture it does seems to undermine the views you expressed in that post. Am I missing something?

Doc Merlin writes:


Listen to the podcast, you seem to have missed the entire point. Somalia is an interesting experiment, that gives lie to several things we thought about public good theory. No one said Somalia is a nice place; it isn't, but it is doing far better than it was under a state, and we can still learn from it as a natural experiment.

The example of cell phone towers is a particularly good one. It shows that the FCC is unnecessarily for regulating cell communication.

BZ writes:

I've long thought that understanding man's essential social nature is key to political theory, and its necessary starting place. Whether you call it "state of nature" or "anarchy" theory is irrelevant -- its about figuring out how men-qua-men relate to one another.

And in that debate, Hobbes and Locke are still the key players, with Economists tending towards the Lockean side of the debate, and paternalists of various stripes siding with Hobbes.

Hopefully the tie in between this opinion about political theory and this lecture about Somalia (which I consumed in another form previously) doesn't require explanation.

Coupon_Clipper writes:


Ok, I can buy that. Just don't fool yourself into believing that this makes a good soundbite for political purposes. But I think you already realized that. :)

Benjamin Powell writes:

Thanks for the plug Arnold. Glad you enjoyed it.

For those who had trouble with the audio the academic article it was based off was "Somalia After State Collapse: Chaos or Improvement?" published in Vol. 67 of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. There is an earlier (and less satisfactory) working paper version still on the Independent Institute website:

And there is a shorter popular version in the Freeman:

mohomud omer writes:

am somali and the economic performance under clan system wit out government is quite interesting
,tax system is poor ,there is no FCC on cellphones
,free trade and wealth tax or income tax at all
.and still they are surviving lollzz an doing far better than they use to

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