Re: Solving World Problems: Warlords

From: steve (
Date: Fri Feb 01 2002 - 05:07:01 MST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Adrian Tymes" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2002 4:26 AM
Subject: Solving World Problems: Warlords

> The problem: almost nowhere in the world does the rule of law actually
> apply fully. Any major nation on Earth has those who would track its
> faults (USA; the EU - or, if you prefer, each of its member nations;
> Australia; Japan; Russia; China; et cetera), and most non-major nations
> barely have even a pretense of laws. It is in the latter that the
> problem is most evident: a farmer's yearly harvest can be stolen in
> seconds by thugs with guns, under the guise of "taxation", "fees", or
> any of a number of other official excuses. The farmer, of course, is
> usually left with enough for himself to survive...else, who would plant
> the fields next year? The burden of taxation is also not always
> consistent; some years, taxes - or just bad luck in the form of drought
> or whatnot - are heavy enough to force the farmer to find work in the
> cities.
> Market reform and capitalism have also been proposed, on the theory that
> the naural laws of commerce will induce the oppressors to reform as they
> see that, for instance, businesses prefer to invest where there are
> stable (and enforced) laws, since this greatly reduces their potential
> risk (risk-averse, relatively-low-reward businesses seem to be dominant,
> though these all too often blind themselves to long-term risks in their
> desire to minimise short-term risks). While this has been used to
> limited success, for instance with China, it relies on there being an
> internal economy and a large enough labor force that business contacts
> must go through more than a few people: bribing a few people is easy;
> bribing each of an army of bearaucrats is expensive.
 I agree that this is not a panacea. The problem is the assumption that
warlords (local elites) will make these reforms and adopt the rule of law
out of self interest since such reforms will make everyone better off
(including the elite). This is true but the process will also undermine the
elites' power and their ability to use it. There are also big advantages
from being a rich, powerful person in a poor country. So it's frequently not
in the warlords interest to reform seriously. China and Japan show one
factor which can push elites in the direction of meaningful reform,
competition with other states in the international system. This doesn't
apply however in places like Latin America or Africa.

> So...what other solutions are there to this problem?
I think there are a number of things we can try. Some kinds of technology do
help to undermine concentrated power so you should encourage their
spread/adoption. Simply encouraging trade is also very useful. In many cases
however I think you need to develop a power which can face down the
"warlords". As you rightly say, traditional violent revolution is a classic
case of the cure being worse than the disease. The alternative is surely the
many forms of non-violent resistance, particularly developing a system of
parallel institutions. I'm not against the use of force defensively however,
as elites will often go to almost any length to protect their position.
Steve Davies

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