Murphy's Law: October 14, 2000


It's The Economy, Stupid; Better make sure you're sitting down before reading the rest of this. Ready? OK, it seems that the most common cause of war today is a shortage of lawyers. Yes indeed. Look at all the nations currently suffering from civil wars, rebellions or the old standby, civil disorder. What do they have in common, aside from the violence? They are all economic disasters. Dig a little deeper and you find that the principle reason for the fiscal follies is the lack of a legal system. You can't run a prosperous economy, a market economy, unless there is a fair way to settle disputes. Even before dueling went out of style, people preferred to use lawyers, especially if the local judges and legal system were considered reasonably fair. 

Many credit and risk rating companies rank all the world's nations in terms of credit worthiness, business risk and general stability. Consider the ten worst nations in one recent survey; Haiti, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Niger, Congo (formerly Zaire) Sudan, Liberia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and, worst of all, North Korea. Eight of these nations show up in's daily update of the world's wars.

Politicians have long known that a poor economy is a sure symptom of civil unrest. Prosperous nations are much less likely to dissolve into civil war or rebellion. Well off folks are not eager to grab a gun and go after the neighbors. But if the government is seen as corrupt and prosperity is restricted to a select few, many of the left out turn to violence. In most cases, this unrest is little more than banditry. But there are usually some more thoughtful people among the downtrodden, and that leads to rebel political movements. During the Cold War, such rebels found it convenient to call themselves communists (whether they were believers or not), because that would bring guns, money and technical assistance from communist nations. When the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990s, so did the support for communist revolutionaries. 

But the lack of money from Moscow did not stop the armed rebellions. Other sources of funding were found. Kidnapping, diamonds, drugs and all manner of criminal activity now propel revolutions world wide. These methods were always used, but with the lack of Cold War subsidies from either superpower, rebels do whatever they have to do to pay the bills and do it more often. If anything, the situation is now worse. The former communist nations are still awash with unneeded weapons and corrupt officials. This means Soviet era weapons are smuggled to wherever there are people willing to pay cash.

There are two cures for all this. During the Cold War, communist governments established repressive police states to keep their poverty stricken populations in line. But that only worked until the socialist dictators were flat broke. You can't have a police state if you can't afford to pay the cops. The other solution is economic reform. While this is long lasting, no one has found an easy way to clean up the legal system so the economy can really take off. In most poor nations, you have a few percent of the population monopolizing the money, the guns, and diplomacy with foreign nations. These fat cats have a tremendous incentive to stay on top. If they lose power, they lose everything, up to and including their lives if they are not quick enough to make it to the air port before the rebels get there. 

Parachuting lawyers into the combat zone, while a nice image, won't stop anything. There is no quick cure for the corruption that creates wars. It takes a generation or more and requires the people in charge to first make a decision to do it. The former communist countries have, for all practical purposes, no lawyers at all. So first they have to train them. The communist legal system was based on using "lawyers" for window dressings. The judges often operated according to instructions from communist party officials. That's corruption and one reason why few communist states remain. Many non-communist nations have similar systems, where judges are easily overruled by the people in power. This is a major reason why businesses don't get off the ground in the first place, and why foreign firms are reluctant to set up shop locally. Multinational corporations will come in if the profits look high enough to cover the extra expense of dealing with corrupt officials. The U.S. government will also provide diplomatic muscle to enforce commercial agreements, but only if the U.S. government considers such a move in America's best interest. hhat sort of intervention does not clean up corruption in the nations involved. 

Peacekeeping is little more than a band aid. The corruption is not addressed by peacekeepers, just take a look at the Balkans, Somalia, Sierra Leone or any other nation being pacified. In most cases, the local crooks rip off the peacekeepers, who are not equipped to deal with the local gangsters. 

In a word, there is no quick solution. Anyone who touts peacekeeping as a solution to these national problems is either ignorant or just looking for a quick boost in the polls. Long term solutions are not sexy, or politically popular, but they are the only solutions that work.


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