Saturday, January 16, 2010

A libertarian dream?

Libertarians, at least the most extreme ones, dream of a world without a government. The only example of such a society nowadays is Somalia, and it certainly is not a shining example. However, I came across this BBC story about the Ivory Coast that could provide a second, better example of a society without a government.

The Ivory Coast went recently through a brief civil war with the outcome that the government has lost control over the northern part of the country, held by "rebels." Civil servants, including teachers, have left this area which is now not governed and does not received any tax-funded public goods. Didi this turn into Somalia? Not quite, as people spontaneously stepped in and started teaching in schools as volunteers, or provide some postal service and policing. Is this how a libertarian society would look like?

There is one big difference between Somalia and the Ivory Coast: a reunification and a return of government will happen in a foreseeable future in the latter. The volunteers have thus stepped in temporarily to bridge the lack of government. In fact, they may be hired in their current roles once things return to "normal." Consider this as a variation of the open source movement where people contribute freely to show their skills and the be hired for pay. Would the Ivorian volunteers have done this forever? Most likely not, as they would still need to make a living. I am afraid Somalia is still the most appropriate example of extreme libertarianism.


TStockmann said...

Not up to your usual standard. You might argue that Somalia reflects anarchism, but most libertarians tend to fetishize property "rights" and contractual enforcement. The transformation of possession to property requires a government, or in some utopian view, an underlying shared culture that would provide a like level of sanctions or for violations.

Kansan said...

The libertarian I know wants the government out of everything and even privatize property rights enforcement. I would call that Mafia. Or Somalia indeed.

Anonymous said...

Well Somalian gov't was worse than Somalian anarchy. Ergo US gov't is worse than US anarchy.

Also libertarians usually point to medieval Iceland as the better comparison. It seemed to work reasonably well.

Vilfredo said...

Medieval Iceland was a society with few people who all knew each other. Social pressure can make that people "behave" and no formal government is necessary. Even, in such a society, money would not even be necessary, as Narayana Kocherlakota would argue.

Once people can be anonymous and especially transactions become anonymous, this illusion of libertarianism falls apart.