Monday, February 21, 2022

Jason Pack's "Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder"

Jason Pack is President of Libya-Analysis LLC and a Scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder, and reported the following:
My book is all about bringing out the humour, tragedy, and inefficiencies of the world system by using Libya as a case study for the economic and political collective action failures which undergird our current era of global dysfunction, which I term the Enduring Disorder. Page 99 showcases one such sub-optimal outcome by highlighting how Chapter 1's theme -- appeasement -- plays out in the post-Qadhafian Libyan context:
Since 2014, the country [Libya] has experienced the vicissitudes of war, the degradation of its infrastructure, and a haemorrhaging of truly unimaginable wealth: according to conservative estimates, at least 200 billion USD has been expended, wasted, or “evaporated” since 2011 on corruption, subsidies, cash transfers, and smuggling—all forms of appeasement. It also seems that Qadhafian assets valued at roughly 100 billion have simply vanished. Add to this the more than 170 billion directly lost from federalist (2014–16) and LNA oil blockades (summer 2018, January–September 2020) and the around 300 billion indirectly lost because the security situation did not allow multinationals to upgrade Libya’s out of date oil infrastructure. The point here is that the direct costs of appeasement—i.e. subsidy programmes and transfer payments—from Qadhafi’s ouster to the present appear to be ‘not that costly’: only in the tens of billions or around a third of Libya’s oil earnings in a regular year. But the indirect costs are certainly in the high hundreds of billions and quite likely over a trillion dollars cumulatively over the first post-Qadhafi decade. In short, even using conservative estimates, by 2021 the overall costs of appeasement have exceeded the total wealth currently inside the country or sovereignly owned abroad.

Libya used to be a very wealthy, extremely sparsely populated place; tragically, the vast majority of its sovereign wealth either remains frozen by UN sanctions against the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), has now vanished due to appeasement, corruption, and misuse, or is trapped underground with only inefficient ways to get it out (due to blockades, security issues, the global recession, and the expected future price of oil).... Those untold riches and what they could have done for Libya’s institutions, infrastructure, and human capital are genuinely lost forever.

Libya will now never be a Kuwait on the Mediterranean, but it is wrong to say that it never could have been. To my mind, appeasement is responsible for this lost future. Politicians believed that because Libya was wealthy, they didn’t need to solve complex collective action problems about who gets what. They could simply pay off their opponents and supporters alike and that all would be well. Such magical thinking pervades appeasement traps elsewhere. In fact, the legacy of appeasement has been a shared feature in other oil producers who have experienced institutional and state collapse during the Enduring Disorder. Venezuela is the most prominent example of an appeasement trap leading to the irrevocable squandering of far more than a trillion dollars of sovereign wealth, the complete implosion of state institutions, and the facilitation of a civil war
The Page 99 Test captures quite a bit of the spirit and structural approach of Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder. Page 99 demonstrates how a key dynamic in today's world-- governmental appeasement-- plays out in Libya causing a sub-optimal economic outcome and how investigating Libya showcases how this dynamic plays out in other far flung global theatres, such as Venezuela. The excerpt also captures the humorous, tragi-comedy approach with which the book seeks to tackle global affairs: pointing out unsettling, yet quite funny paradoxes about today's disordered world and the negative feedback loops which promote further disorder.

A key theme of the book is the question of 'lost futures' (i.e. better global scenarios that could have materialized if multiple actors put aside their short term gains to coordinate for greater collective long term gains). Arguably the example of appeasing Libyan militias through salaries and subsidies on refined petrol, which is then smuggled abroad, is one of the best examples of how these dynamics play out in real life. Post-Qadhafi Libya should have been the wealthiest country in Africa from a per capita GNP perspective. It should also have been able to use its oil wealth and turn that into human development and infrastructure. Yet it has failed to do so. It has rather used its oil wealth to fuel its cycles of civil strife. This dynamic is quite indicative of many of the other collective action conundrums that the book deals with. From climate change, to jihadis, to regulating cyberspace, Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder, presents examples of the negative feedback loops of badly coordinated policies that create the wrong incentive structures.

What the Page 99 Test misses, however, is any glimmering of the book's primary theoretical contentions: that we are no longer living in the post-Cold War world and that Realist IR theory with its notion of the balance of power is no longer applicable to the current world order. To find out more about those, as well as my personal adventures in Qadhafi's Libya, Trump's Washington, and with Fortune 500 Lobbyists, buy the book.
Learn more about Libya and the Global Enduring Disorder at the Oxford University Press website and Jason Pack's website.

--Marshal Zeringue