Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Flat World

When the Indonesian tsunami struck the coast of Somalia, it had an unexpected effect:

[A]long more than 400 miles of shoreline, the turbo-charged wave churned up reinforced containers of hazardous toxic waste that European companies had been dumping a short distance offshore for more than a decade, taking advantage of the fact that there was not even a pretend authority in the African “failed state”.
Failed states, you’ll note, have their virtues. For one thing, they tend not to flirt with environmental regulation, and other dangerous forms of socialistic radicalism. Somalia, in point of fact, is a libertarian’s paradise, right down to the universal availability of guns. Everything is privatized, from telecommunications to water:
Prices naturally rise in times of drought. Traditionally, destitute families have not had to pay for water, while the slightly better-off borrow funds from relatives. Nevertheless, after several years of drought the United Nations estimates that many families in the Eastern Sanaag have debts of US$50–100 for water. Moreover, access to safe water is low even by African standards because neither regulators nor the market have been able to persuade merchants to purify their water.
Well, no system is perfect. The important thing is that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well:
Rumours had long circulated about European companies, mainly from Italy and Switzerland, taking advantage of the chaos in Somalia to strike immoral deals with local warlords to dump toxic waste. The arrangements, involving countless millions of pounds, inevitably financed the Somali war, offering a powerful incentive to ignore environmental concerns and carry on dumping the waste.
This, in nuce, is the flat world whose glories have dazzled Tom Friedman to the point of drool-soaked imbecility.

Meanwhile, Serious People fret ostentatiously over the effect of the third-world diaspora on Western civilization. So many of these immigrants don’t share our values, you see.

(Photo by Pádraig Grant.)


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