Why Don’t You Just Move to Somalia?

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

If you don’t like it, why don’t you just move to Somalia? The old rhetoric is pretty common among supporters of the state and is no stranger to either party. Somalia, of course, is an example of a country without an organized federal government. It also is severely underdeveloped. So as the fallacious argument goes, it must, therefore, be an example of what will occur in the absence of a state.

The proposition is interesting, but under any reasonable scrutiny, it falls apart. In order to accurately judge the effects of (relative) Somalian anarchy, it is essential to compare apples to apples. The common argument compares living conditions in the United States to those in Somalia. It then assumes that both of these countries perfectly represent the two situations, but in fact, this is a complete generalization.

The Demographic Transition

To understand why this argument is invalid, one must first know a little bit of background about social science and the demographic transition. Essentially, this theory states that countries will follow a certain pattern of development. To greatly simplify, countries begin in Stage 1, with very high death rates and birth rates. The former eventually will fall in Stage 2 due to advancements in technology, and the latter follows it in Stage 3 as family planning begins to take place. By Stage 4, the death rate and birth rate balance again, but both figures are far lower than they were in Stage 1. Stage 5 occurs when the birth rate falls below the death rate due to casualties such as war, or advanced family planning. Few countries are in Stage 5, but notable exceptions include Japan and some of the Balkans.

Demographic transition model
The demographic transition model.

Within the framework of this, the world is divided into two categories: more developed countries (MDC) and less developed countries (LDC). Generally, the MDC’s are in the latter stages, whereas the LDC’s are in the earlier stages. Of course, the quality of life in an MDC will be much better than that of an LDC. As a country develops, their medicine, education, life expectancy, disease rates, and many more things all improve.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

The United States, of course, is an MDC in Stage 4. But Somalia, on the other hand, is an LDC that is only in Stage 1 and has never been anything but. With and without their government, they have been a severely underdeveloped country, as have many other African nations. When someone tells a libertarian to move to Somalia, they are attempting to make a fair comparison between the two nations. In a sense, they say that a lack of a state is the cause of poor living conditions. This could not be further from the truth.

World life expectancy map
WHO World life expectancy, 2015

Looking at the above map, it is clear that Somalia (the oblong red country on the horn of East Africa) has a very low life expectancy. However, there are a number of states with governments that fall in the lower bracket, which the darker red denotes. Several other states share the same color as Somalia. This, of course, is not to say that those other countries have low life expectancies because they have governments.

Suggesting this would be just as wrong as the notion that Somalia’s is low because it does not. It would be like someone in the Danish anarchist community of Freetown Christiania telling a Kenyan that their low life expectancy is due to the existence of the state. Clearly, there are other factors that are much more in play, most notably the development difference.

Even if Somalia had the lowest life expectancy in the world, it would not be immediately clear whether this was correlation or causation. But because there are others lower, this theoretical needs no refutation. Clearly, the lack of a government does not inherently mean a country will be worse off than another with a government.

A Fair Analysis

With this in mind, there are two key comparisons that will suggest whether anarchism has actually failed in Somalia. First of all, it will be useful to look at Somalia’s growth relative to countries with a similar stage of development. If it radically outperforms other poor, Stage 1 African nations with states, this may suggest a success of anarchism. If it lags behind considerably, it may suggest the opposite. But even this look, though helpful, is not all-encompassing. To truly see the effects of statelessness in Somalia compared to governance, one must look at growth in Somalia before and after the government fell in 1991.

Surprising Relative Success

In looking at countries to compare, two examples stood out: Mali and Chad. Both countries (as well as Somalia) have populations in the 12-20 million range and life expectancies between 50 and 60. But over time, how have these numbers changed?

Surprisingly, it appears that the Somalian numbers were actually more impressive than those for the other countries. From 1991 to 2000, life expectancy in Somalia shot up from 45.3 to 50.9 years, an increase of more than six months for every passing year. And from 1995 to 1996, it increased by an entire year (47.1 to 48.1), all without the power of the state.

Looking at the control countries, though, gives less than satisfactory results. Over the same stretch of time, Mali’s life expectancy still increased, but by far less. The 1991 value of 46.1 slowly made its way up to 48.1 nine years later. Chad’s numbers, though, were nearly stagnant. The 47.1 years in 1991 only inched forward a half of a year to 47.6 by the turn of the century.

Somalia’s Improving Stateless Economy?

When looking at Gross National Income, Per Capita, results gave similar strength to the stateless country. At the time of government’s eradication in 1991, the GNI value for Somalia was a slim 79 USD annually. But by 2000, this figure nearly tripled, spiking to a level of 218 USD. Though it then fell back down drastically in 2001 and 2002, even this crash left the figure at 122 USD, more than one and a half times the value under a state.

Mali and Chad, on the contrary, did not witness any gains at all. From 1991 to 2000, Mali’s per capita GNI dropped from 343 to 267 USD, a loss of over 20%. Chad’s decline was even more abysmal. The state’s GNI plummeted, over the same span, from 296 to 187 USD, losing over 35% in nine years.

So, both in terms of life and income, Somalia far exceeded the growth rates of these similar countries. Of course, this analysis is not all-inclusive, nor is it the only data necessary to draw a definite conclusion. Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Yet, it is still worth noting that once more, the country without a government is capable of growing and developing faster over time than ones with governments. So, when looking fairly at countries in similar developmental positions, the state has no direct advantage over the stateless.

A Firm Refutation

Examining the relationships between different countries is a useful tool in order to make a conjecture. The evidence above strongly suggests that Somalia is able to develop faster than other countries and does not have a state. So, it can definitively counter the argument that Somalia is underdeveloped because it does not have a state.

However, it does not answer the question of whether it does so because of, in spite of, or unrelated to its statelessness. Due to the vast social, cultural, and political differences between even the most demographically similar countries, this data alone cannot guarantee that it is indeed Somalia’s lack of a state that fosters its improved growth. It is clear that stateless and improved growth existed, but not yet that they are connected. But, a look at some of Somalia’s own demographics in times of government and statelessness can solve this problem.

Improvements Without the State

Somalia life expectancy graph
Somalia’s life expectancy, 1960-present

The above graph shows Somalia’s life expectancy over time. The particularly strongly sloping growth appears to exactly coincide with the abolition of the state in 1991. And what’s more, in the state’s last decade, life expectancy actually fell. Without a doubt, when the state dissolved in Somalia, the people began to live much longer.

Economically speaking, the results are quite similar. Right before the government fell, the economy tanked, as GNI fell by more than a third in a single year leading up to 1991. Throughout the 1980s, GNI did admittedly increase, going from 90 to 126 USD by 1990. However, this growth is minuscule compared to the more than doubling that occurred in the 1990s.

Without a doubt, Somalia performs better without a state than with one in these critical demographic categories. But one more surprising feature can be added to the list: environmental friendliness. Through the 1980s, Somalian CO2 emissions fluctuated slightly. But for the most part, they hovered around 0.1 metric tons per capita. Without the state, the numbers shrank rapidly. From 1991 to 2000, immediately following the dissolution of the state, per capita figures nearly halved, falling from 0.095 to 0.053 metric tons.

Why don’t you Move to Somalia?

Surely, Somalia is a violence-ridden country with poor demographic standings. It is severely underdeveloped, through the lens of a first world country. Thus, no American, however libertarian or anarchist, should seek to move to Somalia for an increased quality of life. However, those in nearby, poor LDC’s in Africa may see some benefits.

Once more, these figures do not inherently prove, in any way, that a society will always develop faster without a government. Despite this, they do strongly support the thought that this indeed occurred in the case of Somalia. Without a state, quality of life considerably improved. In some categories, it is now better off than countries it used to lag behind. Of course, a move to Somalia is nothing compared to a move to America. But to an African living in abject poverty, a move to Somalia may make all of the difference, truly benefitting his or her quality of life.

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