The Deadman Night Rider

A forum for evening students of the SMU Dedman School of Law and other outlaws..

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Dangerous concentrations

I've been meaning to post about this article for a couple of weeks, but kind of got side-tracked. The author, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, makes an argument that failed states, such as Somalia, Haiti, and 58 others listed by Foriegn Policy and the Fund for Peace as threats to world security, arise not from a lack of government power, but from too much power centralized in too few hands. It is curious that this article was published by Mother Jones magazine since Llosa is particularly critical of Venezuela, while MJ are fairly reliable apologists for Chavez. He also lists governmental monopolies on critical economic resources as a danger signal, an attitude you don't normally see from MJ contributors.

One of the most striking observations made here is the clustering of economic activity around political concentrations. Llosa points to Peru, where Lima swamps the rest of the country. The second largest city, Arequipa, produces only 6% of GDP. I have seen this phenomenon first-hand in Russia and Kazakhstan, where traveling outside of the capitols is like traveling further and further back in time. It raises an interesting question - is the geographic distribution of wealth here in the US tied to the broad distribution of governmental authority we have? Russia and the Central Asian republics have nothing resembling our states, only 'oblasts', which are somewhat analagous to counties. Even down at that level, in Kazakhstan at least, the akim functions like a minor despot, thereby replicating the problem on a smaller scale.

It may be a bit unseemly to mention, with Rita advancing on Galveston as I write this, but perhaps we should consider this in the rush to seat a whole new set of emergency powers at the federal level. I'm not quite comfortable with letting our governors trade away their responsibility and authority - they have both of them for a reason.


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