While it is important to avoid romanticizing Somalia, the results suggest that statelessness has substantially improved Somali development. I find that on nearly all indicators Somalia is doing significantly better under anarchy than it was under government.Somalia was ruled by General Barre from 1969 until 1991 after he overthrew the previous government that had obtained independence from Britain and Italy less than a decade earlier. Civil war from 1988 to led to loss of government in 1991 which has continued since then with various groups claiming sovereignty over parts of the country.
Leeson establishes his thesis by comparing the status of several indicators of societal health in the years prior to 1991 and the years prior to 2005 after more than a decade without official government. The markers are limited in scope because of the difficulty obtaining reliable data.
Key development indicators before and after statelessness
|GDP per capita (PPP constant $)||836||600||?|
|Life expectancy (years)||46.0||48.47||Improved|
|One year olds fully immunized against measles (%)||30||40||Improved|
|One year olds fully immunized against TB (%)||31||50||Improved|
|Physicians (per 100,000)||3.4||4||Improved|
|Infants with low birth weight (%)||16||0.3||Improved|
|Infant mortality rate (per 1000)||152||114.89||Improved|
|Maternal mortality rate (per 100,000)||1600||1100||Improved|
|Pop. with access to water (%)||29||29||Same|
|Pop. with access to sanitation (%)||18||26||Improved|
|Pop. with access to at least one health facility (%)||28||54.8||Improved|
|Extreme poverty (< $1 per day)||60||43.2||Improved|
|Radios (per 1000)||4.0||98.5||Improved|
|Telephones (per 1000)||1.92||14.9||Improved|
|TVs (per 1000)||1.2||3.7||Improved|
|Fatality due to measles||8000||5598||Improved|
|Adult literacy rate (%)||24||19.2||Worse|
|Combined school enrollment (%)||12.9||7.5||Worse|
So of these 18 indicators, 14 show improvement, 1 is stable, and 3 are worse. And Leeson argues that the GDP prior to 1991 is over stated for 3 reasons including that foreign aid contributed to half of that figure.
The article is well worth a read. Leeson discusses the history of Somalia, mentions some examples of recent progress, and addresses potential alternative claims. He acknowledges there is a way for the country to go, and that Somalia may well do better under good, small government; but he makes the point that people may do better without government, than with bad government.
there is a tendency upon observing problems in distressed regions of the world to see only on the “failure” of the current situation, ignoring the quite possibly even worse state of affairs that preceded it.His conclusion,
...Although a properly constrained government may be superior to statelessness, it is not true that any government is superior to no government all.
A comprehensive view of the data that allow pre- and post-anarchy welfare
comparisons suggest that anarchy has improved overall development. Contrary to the typical case, in Somalia social welfare has improved because of, rather than despite, the absence of a central state. Somalia’s government was oppressive, exploitative, and brutal. The extent of this predation created a situation in which social welfare was depressed below the level it could achieve without any government at all. The emergence of anarchy in 1991 opened up opportunities for advancement not possible before government’s collapse. In particular, economic progress and improved public goods provision in critical areas flourished in the absence of a monopolistic and corrupt state.