Thoughts “Third World Libertarian Dystopias”

As stated before, one of my goals with this blog is find common ground between various forms of anti-establishment political tenancies including the anti-establishment left, and various forms ideas associated with libertarianism.  During these discussions, people who are critical of the government or seek to minimize it’s role in our lives are often accused of wanting to turn the U.S. into some kind of third world economy.  This was done earlier this month on MSNBC’s The Cycle, where host Krystal Ball went into a rant about how Somalia is a Libertarian paradise.  I also saw the argument again, when this I shown this piece, from The Economist, which after discussing the much of the chaos, crime and poverty in Nigeria’s capital city, claims:

The government fails to provide essential services, from infrastructure to education, so the market fills the gap. Lagos is a highly-functioning libertarian dystopia where you can get anything if you have the naira {the local currency} and the tens of thousands streaming from the country can eke out a living alongside prospecting multinational yuppies. The Wild West model will never yield sustainable social or economic development, but in Lagos it’s the only game in town.

I found both pieces worth addressing and will do so here. Simply put, I found both to be fallaciously using, countries shaped by centuries of coercion, as arguments opposition to coercion.   In response to the piece from The Economist, I blame the chaos, crime and poverty in Lagos, on the centuries of land and resource theft, by colonial elites and government cronies in the oil business, not to mention the instability caused by a series of military Junta’s and a violent civil war all of which occurred in fairly recent decades, rather than the city’s rather unregulated economy.   It seems that the country’s more voluntarist aspects are at least allowing much the population to eek out a living in this highly unstable world, a world, I’ll reiterate that was shaped by violence and coercion.

I certainly hope none of my readers favor regulating all the city’s street merchants and small time vendors out of business.  That said, I would favor as much of the wealth stolen from the country’s populations by previous government’s and their cronies being returned,  and would not oppose, out of general principle, the government doing this (though I do question the government’s capability of doing this fairly, and without unintended consequences).  Needless to say, I see decentralized voluntary transactions as the means by which residents of the city are able to make the most of the situation they are in rather than the cause of it, as I have heard some imply.

As far as Krystal Ball’s comments, I find they may be applicable to the politicians she names a sizable of amount of mainstream conservatives and even a few libertarians, who actually do seem to want the neo-liberal corporatist reforms, the west has imposed on third world countries, to be imposed on us as well.  That said, I reject the notion that Somalia or any other third world place, should be seen as examples of what the libertarian ideal would result in.  These are places, where the distribution of wealth and power has been shaped by centuries of violence and coercion, rather than, voluntary exchange. As such it is far from the ideal that any voluntarist or decentralist advocates.

Simply put a country that does not have a robust protection of justly acquired pocessions (no matter what concept of justly acquired procession one holds) cannot be seen as reflecting voluntarist or libertarian values of any kind.  I will also point out that the poverty and criminal culture of much of the third world was created by years of colonial rulers who stole the best land and gave it to plantation owners, followed by puppet dictatorships that stole the most valuable resources and granted them to oil companies, or mine interest or other business elites.  It is the injustices resulting from these things we should be fighting, and more often than not these injustices come from coercive government actions.

It is the fact that the actions of large centralized states, and their cronies, are responsible so much of the problems that plague the third world, and the tendency of third world governments to be corrupt, abusive, or lacking in resources, that gives many of us pause at the suggestion that more coercive government action is needed to rectify their problems, or our problems.  That said, I am sure many readers will favor the type of programs Krystal Ball supports, which is fine (you are entitled to your opinion), but I will hope that those who do, will cease to make her mistake of conflating existing societies shaped by centuries of coercive violence with the voluntarist/libertarian ideal.  This is a misrepresentation, and often obscures many nuances worthy of discussion.

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