Monday, Dec 27, 2010

Somalia has lacked a national government since the fall of Siad Barreā€™s dictatorship in 1991. Rival factions immediately plunged the country into civil war in failed attempts to install themselves as the new national government. U.S. and UN humanitarian and military intervention from 1993 through 1995 failed to restore peace.

Although all data from Somalia must be treated with some caution, when looking at these 13 measures of living standards, the overall picture seems clear. Somalia may be very poor, but the loss of its government does not appear to have harmed standards of living. On many measures Somalia compares favorably with the other 42 Sub-Saharan countries. Since losing its central government, we find that Somalia improved measures of well being both in absolute terms and relative to other African states.

At a minimum, laws that protect person and property, a dispute settlement process, and a currency are needed. People often assume that these are public goods that the government must provide. But the Somalis have managed to provide forms of all of these without a national government... When the Somali state collapsed, much of the population returned to their traditional legal system.

When a dispute arises between two members of different clans, their clan elders must reach a compromise. If they are unable to do so, they appoint an elder from another clan to settle the dispute. After a verdict is reached, the criminal must compensate his victim the appropriate amount. If he is unable or unwilling, his extended family must pay the compensation. Every Somali is born into an insurance group based on their lineage to a common great-grandfather. Out of their own self-interest these insurance groups help enforce the judgment on wrongdoers.

Although the interpretation of the law stems from clan elders, the clans are not de facto governments. Upon becoming an adult, individuals are free to choose new insurance groups and elders. In addition, individual clans are not geographic monopolies.

Far from chaos and economic collapse, we find that Somalia is generally doing better than when it had a state.

Somalia After State Collapse: Chaos or Improvement?, Benjamin Powell, Ryan Ford, Alex Nowrasteh, The Independent Institute, November 30, 2006,