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September 11, 2011


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"It doesn’t hurt that Somali is currently such an anarchic hellhole that few Ogaden Somalis want to join up, nationalist sympathies notwithstanding. The Ethiopian government may be a brutal dictatorship, but at least it’s an actual, more or less functioning government."

At least this brutal dictatorship is functioning? So any government is good, even if it is brutal. Nice. Did you ever condider that Somalia might be better off without it's government?

Is this a serious question? If it is, we'll take it on ... but ask, where are lifespans longer and political freedoms greater, Ethiopia or Somalia?

Yes, of course it's a serious question, one you seem to have neglected to ask.

Again, you make the wrong comparison. The relevant question is, are the people of Somalia better off with or without a government?

And the scholarship on the matter clearly answers the question with the latter.

Please watch this presentation:


and see here:


and here:


"the scholarship on the matter clearly answers the question with the latter"

The stupid, it burns.

The "scholarship" is a paper by Peter 'Pirates!' Leeson, using carefully cherry-picked data from a period when Somalia was briefly doing relatively well.

That period has passed. Currently, Somalia has over a million displaced people (out of a population of less than 10 million) and another 500,000 people have fled the country. The current famine has already killed tens of thousands of people, and is expected to kill several hundred thousand before it is done; currently, about 4 million people -- nearly half the country's population -- are "experiencing food insecurity". Human development indicators have been stagnant at a very low level for years now, and are expected to decline sharply in the next couple of years as the famine sends things like infant mortality and disease rates soaring.

But even in terms of 2005, the Leeson paper is crappy scholarship. Two quick examples: he emphasizes that the Siad Barre government was heavily dependent on foreign aid, but completely neglects to mention that much of the post-Barre improvement in HR indicators was the result of targeted foreign aid as well. Childhood immunization, for instance: Somalia's inoculation programs have been entirely foreign-funded for decades now. So noting that they've improved their numbers and then chalking this up to the wonders of anarchy is pretty fucking idiotic. Or life expectancy: he notes that Somalia's nudged up slightly while, for instance, Kenya's stagnated. But 1990s Kenya was going through the worst of the AIDS epidemic, which Somalia largely escaped. Whoops, he just forgot to mention this.

And, oh yeah, he doesn't disaggregate Somaliland. A third of the country actually has a functioning government. Leeson airily dismissed them because they don't collect taxes, but that was bullshit -- between customs revenue and foreign aid, they were able to function, albeit at a low level. And they've been growing steadily in size and competence for a while now; Somaliland's government budget nearly quadrupled between 2003 and 2010 (from $16 million to a still pretty low $61 million -- but it's an actual budget, with collected taxes, voted on by the legislature and everything). More to the point, they're recognized as legitimate, and are able to impose some degree of peace, order and economic development in northern Somalia/Somaliland.

Unsurprisingly, Somaliland's HR figures are significantly higher than the aggregated "Somalia" average. Somaliland's literacy rate, for instance, is around 40%, and about 50% of its kids are in school. That's low -- but those figures are roughly double the average for Somalia as a whole. Leeson completely ignores this.

The paper is full of crap like that. It's not scholarship; it's a contrarian piece that's shooting for some cheap PR.

-- There are governments that are so godawful, so malevolent, so utterly destructive, that anarchy is preferable. Nobody questions this. And arguably Siad Barre was in that category. But the relevant question isn't whether Somalia did better after Siad Barre was gone; he's been gone for a while now. The question is whether they'd be better with or without a government today. And if you look at Somalia today... well, it would have to be a pretty horrible government to be worse than this.

There's also the counterfactual. If you look at Somalia's neighbors, most of them saw their governments get somewhat better over the last 20 years. Ethiopia, for instance, went from being ruled by Mengistu, a Barre-like incompetent, malignant brute, to being ruled by a noticeably more competent and slightly less malevolent dictator. Ethiopia has seen hothouse growth over the last decade, more than doubling per capita income since the late 1990s. So, while Somalia might have continued to stagnate, it's probably not the way to bet -- and a Somalia that had done as well as Ethiopia over the last 15 years would be a much, much better off country than the Somalia that actually exists.

Somalia has had a negative publicity due to its significance to haven terrorists. The Somali government should help other countries to fight terrorism

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