Around the Web

  1. Olivier Roy on Laicite as Ideology, the Myth of ‘National Identity’ and Racism in the French Republic
  2. Prague ’68 and the End of Time
  3. How To Spot And Critique Censorship Tropes In The Media’s Coverage Of Free Speech Controversies
  4. The Swamping that Wasn’t: The Diaspora Dynamics of the Puerto Rican Open Borders Experiment
  5. A Voice Still Heard: Irving Howe
  6. Borders and Bobbing Heads: Postcoloniality and Algeria’s Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence (so close, and yet so far…)
  7. The New Yorker on the recent scientific fraud, with its epicenter at my alma mater. (Delacroix remains startlingly relevant because of it.)

How to think like an individualist

Postmodernism is disposed of incisively. “Just as Western politicians and generals annex foreign lands, postcolonial theorists argue, so Western intellectuals impose their knowledge on the rest of the world,” Malik writes. But Western philosophy does not replicate the ways and methods of Western imperialism. Its criteria and methods, but also its values, are completely different. So is its relationship to the non-European world, which is not one of subjugation and annexation, but of interaction and accommodation. The key concepts of Western secular modernity that are hardest to contest – universalism, democracy and individual liberty – were not, in reality, products of Western imperialism, and are actually not compatible with it. Anti-colonialism in modern times is as much a product of Western philosophy as of non-European thought, or more so. There are also other key Western ideas, such as Marx’s critique of capitalism, that have demonstrated an impressively wide appeal in every part of the globe but remain as much contested today in the West as anywhere else.

Kenan Malik stole all my ideas. I guess I should start applying for insurance salesman positions, eh? Read the rest, by Jonathan Israel. But wait, there’s more.

Any nation that has an official religious establishment faces the problem of “standardizing” the religion to satisfy the demands of the establishment. Note that the law [passed by Austria’s parliament forcing Austrian Muslim organizations to use a German-language Qur’an] doesn’t outright ban competing translations of the Qur’an, but gives the official imprimatur of the Austrian government to an approved translation. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Austrians to distinguish the rights-protecting and religious-establishment-establishing functions of the state, and to dump the latter over the side. But I suspect it hasn’t occurred to the Austrian Parliament because it hasn’t quite occurred to Austrian Muslims, either. There are perks to be had if you accept government sponsorship of your religion: once you’re enticed by them, it becomes hard not to do a deal with the Devil to keep them in place. I don’t know about the standardized German translation, but my translation of the Qur’an suggests that seduction is the Devil’s AOS.

This is from the infamous Irfan Khawaja over at Policy of Truth. Read it.

What’s up with decentralization (“Administrative Unit Proliferation”) in Uganda these days?

I just came across a fascinating new article on decentralization by two political scientists. Here is the abstract:

Numerous developing countries have substantially increased their number of sub-national administrative units in recent years. The literature on this phenomenon is, nonetheless, small and suffers from several theoretical and methodological shortcomings; in particular, a unit of analysis problem that causes past studies to mistakenly de-emphasize the importance of local actors. We posit that administrative unit proliferation occurs where and when there is a confluence of interests between the national executive and local citizens and elites from areas that are politically, economically and ethnically marginalized. We argue further that although the proliferation of administrative units often accompanies or follows far-reaching decentralization reforms, it likely results in a recentralization of power; the proliferation of new local governments fragments existing units into smaller ones with lower relative intergovernmental bargaining power and administrative capacity. We find support for these arguments using original data from Uganda.

The article is by Guy Grossman & Janet Lewis and it’s fascinating. Read the whole thing. I found one especially interesting argument that I’d like to mull over (the piece also produced a couple of off-topic questions in my mind). Grossman and Lewis argue that the process of decentralization first undertaken by rebels-turned-politicians has actually led to a recentralization of power in Uganda. From page 33:

Turning to political dependence, in recent years local government officials are increasingly appointed by the center, rather then [sic] being elected. Most dramatically, a 2008 amendment to the Local Government Act stripped from the directly elected District Chairperson the power to appoint the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and other senior level administrators. Instead the central government’s Public Service Commission was granted the power to appoint senior level administrators, who are assigned to districts by the Ministry of Local Government. The 2008 amendment has, in effect, put the entire technocratic arm of the district under the purview of the central government rather than the district’s elected political leadership.

So what is happening in Uganda (and, according to authors, elsewhere in the developing world) is that more and more administrative units (think counties or states in a US context) are being produced, but that this is actually making the executive branch stronger rather than weaker. Does this make sense? If not, you know where the comments section is.

I find this process of decentralization fascinating, largely because I think it is more conducive to freedom (in the broadest possible sense) and as a result produces more economic prosperity (see my pieces on secession within the US, EU). What I had not accounted for was the fact that decentralization could actually make it easier for a tyrant to control a swath of territory. So naturally I had to ask why this recentralization has come about.

The answer, I think, is on page 35 of the same article:

Since the late 1980s, key players in the international development community—such as the World Bank and USAID—have encouraged developing countries to implement far reaching decentralization reforms.

So foreign aid is probably the cause of loss of local power, but also the catalyst for such decentralization in the first place (by bribing post-colonial governments to decentralize; but what about ideology? From what I can tell, the rebels who set up Uganda’s new government were committed to decentralization in order to maintain peace between tribes and limit power of the center, rather than to get money from Western lending institutions).

Let me try again. Decentralization became all the buzz in development circles after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Western lending institutions began paying governments when they decentralized. However, there may have been an indigenous drive for devolution that is overlooked here, and this drive may have been overpowered by the bribes given to governments by Western aid donors. This clash – between Western donors and indigenous attempts to assert sovereignty while integrating into the world economy – is what I think would be worth exploring further.

There is also the issue of economic prosperity. While decentralization may have led to a recentralization of power in the post-colonial world (I am not convinced that decentralization is to blame; I think foreign aid is largely responsible for the inability of developing states to fully decentralize), I am inclined to argue that decentralization has also led to a dramatic decline in poverty levels.

I mentioned the halving of global poverty a couple of days ago, and this decline, coupled with the increase in decentralization, suggests that the libertarian impulse to decentralize power structures does lead to wealthier, healthier societies. So with the dramatic increase of world prosperity in mind, I have to ask if the recentralization efforts of governments are given too much weight in the Grossman & Lewis paper.

I am sure that decentralization has not been perfect. I am sure that decentralization has left many people who supported it deeply unsatisfied. What I am less sure about is that supporting the status quo (that is to say, prohibiting decentralization by any means necessary) would have been a better option than the one post-colonial states have been pursuing for the last twenty years. It seems to me like the process of decentralization has been a good one, all things considered.

So, now that I have made it known that I think foreign aid is to blame for the (perceived) recentralization of power in Uganda, and now that I have made it known that I think decentralization has been more good than bad for people, what do I think needs to be done to address the problem of recentralization that Grossman & Lewis argue is occurring?

My quick, lazy answers are 1) create a Senate, and 2) keep liberalizing the economy.

There are other, supplemental prescriptions (such as ensuring property rights protections are strong; this is probably best handled by integrating indigenous property laws with generally agreed upon rules governing world trade; in this respect, African states that were a part of the British Empire generally do a great job, and the failures of these states can largely be attributed to protectionist policies after decolonization), but I think my lazy answers are more straightforward, and would get better results (at least in the context former British colonies). (h/t Joshua Keating)

Around the Web

  1. Women and Men, Why Can’t We All Just Disagree?
  2. Al-Qaeda Leaks: Baghdadi and Golani Fight Over the Levant Emirate
  3. A new Nollywood film (wiki article on Nollywood)
  4. Why American Presidents love foreign affairs
  5. So you want to live in a free society: What Hayek saw
  6. The US government’s war on poverty

Bad News Bears: Ukraine, Russia and the West

No, I’m not talking about the Bruins choking in Pasadena earlier tonight. I’m talking about the Ukrainian government’s decision to balk at the latest Western offer for integration.

Well, at least I think it’s bad. The New York Times has all the relevant information on what happened between Kiev and the West. According to the Grey Lady, Kiev either balked at an IMF offer or had its arm twisted by Moscow. Both scenarios seem plausible, but I’d like to dig a bit deeper.

Ukrainians have been hit hard by this global recession, and last year they elected a government that is much more pro-Russia than it is pro-West. Unfortunately, I think the economy is only a small fragment of what ails the people in the post-colonial, post-socialist state of Ukraine (some people have started labeling “post-” states as “developmentalist” states; I like it but I’m not sure readers would). First of all, here are some relevant maps:

Ethno-linguistic map of Ukraine
2012 presidential election results in Ukraine
Map of per capita income in Ukraine

Notice a pattern? Yeah, me too. Basically, Ukraine is split along ethnic lines between Russians and Ukrainians and instead of recognizing this fact and focusing on property rights reforms first and foremost, the Ukrainians have decided to try their hand at democracy (on the inability of democracy to solve political problems in multi-ethnic states, see Ludwig von Mises’s Nation, State and Economy 72-84).

The conflation of democracy with property rights as freedom has been the single biggest mistake of all societies in the post-war world. From Ghana to Indonesia to Iraq to India to Ukraine, elites have focused their efforts on implementing democracy rather than property rights, and the inevitable, unfortunate results (“dictatorship and poverty”) continue to frustrate me. I’m sure the people who actually have to live under these conditions don’t like it much either.

Wouldn’t it be better if the current Ukrainian state  split into (at least) two independent states? I ask because it seems to me that having (at least) two different states will cut the number of losers in half (losers of elections in “post-” societies truly are losers; it’s nothing like having to “live under” Obama or Bush) and make the new, smaller governments more accountable and more accessible to the people.

The other aspect of Kiev’s rejection of Western integration that troubles my mind is that of the attitudes towards liberalization of Ukrainian society that many people obviously harbor.

For example:

  • Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians overwhelmingly support more integration with the West. There are demonstrations (and I use this term loosely; riots may soon start) against the government’s decision to balk at the West going on right now.
  • And Russian-speaking Ukrainians (being Ukrainian can be either an ethnic thing or political thing [“citizenship”], which just goes to show you how stupid anything other than individualism is, but I digress) overwhelmingly support Moscow.

Yet it seems to me that both sides take the “pro-” and “anti-” stances that they do more out of spite for the other side than out of an understanding of what liberalization actually entails (I base this hunch on my watching of the recent elections here in the US). It’s also not clear to me that a pro-Western tilt would actually lead to more liberalization.

It may be easy for the Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians to integrate and work with the West, but I think the Russian-speaking Ukrainians have good cause to look upon pro-Western deals with suspicion. After all, the Russian speakers are the richest faction in Ukraine, and freer trade with the West  would seriously undermine their political power (why do you think Russian-speaking Ukrainians have all the good jobs?).

Perhaps Evgeniy can enlighten us on the Russian perspective.

If Evgeniy doesn’t have the time you could just read Daniel Larison’s thoughts on the matter (Dr Larison is a historian with a PhD from the University of Chicago who specializes in the Slavic world).

The Case for More States in Africa? Anarchy, State or Utopia?

Yes please! There is an old article in the Atlantic arguing that more states are just what Africa needs, and I’d like to highlight why I think more states are a good thing, and at the same time pick up Dr. Delacroix’s argument on states and libertarianism from a little while back and explain why I think that more states are a good thing and why Dr. Delacroix doesn’t really understand libertarian thought.

Now, I know more states seems at first glance to be a counterintuitive position for a libertarian to take, but upon second glance I hope to show you why this isn’t true.

First up, from the Atlantic‘s article:

The idea that Africa suffers from too few secessionist campaigns, too few attempts to carve a few large nations into many smaller ones, flies in the face of conventional wisdom. One of the truisms of African politics is that traditional borders, even when bequeathed by colonizers without the least sympathy for African political justice, ought to be respected. The cult of colonial borders has been a cornerstone not only of diplomacy between African nations but of the assistance programs of foreign governments and multinational non-governmental organizations.

I’ve pointed this out from a number of different angles previously here on the blog, so I don’t want to delve too deeply into this, but the article, written by a professor of journalism at Arizona State, has more: Continue reading

Property Rights in the Post-Colonial World

Land grabs and crony capitalism at its finest. From Reason magazine:

Politicians in the affected countries are key partners in operations that resemble the late-19th-century scramble for control of Africa. The land grabs aim at enriching privileged companies and their political allies, usually at the expense of those already on the land. States, companies, and their frequent close friend, the World Bank, see no reason to respect sitting owners and resource users, whatever their rights under customary law and (sometimes) postcolonial statutes. Pastoral nomads get even less respect. In Tanzania, for example, governments and safari capitalists have reduced the traditional grazing lands of the Maasai herdsmen to a fraction of what they were. And in Ethiopia, the government’s “villagization” policy, Pearce writes, resettles peasant farmers “in the manner of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot,” clearing the way for deals with foreign capital.

You can read the rest here. I hope to have some more academic articles up as links soon.