In Newsweek, Silvia Spring marvels that the Iraqi economy appears to be booming even while the country remains mired in violence.
People are often surprised that economies can thrive without a high degree of politically enforced social order, but history tends to show that too much government is more likely to cause economic stagnation than too little. Most 3rd-world business people face the worst of both worlds. The government does a very poor job of providing physical security and a fair judiciary (important to enforce contracts), yet it imposes strangling taxes, jealously guards its prerogatives to decide who can and cannot engage in any particular economic activity, and individual government agents usually extort vast sums. As a result, the descent of a country into mild anarchy usually improves the situation. The actual security situation may not be that much worse, but all the parasitic government activity disappears. The situation turns into a net gain. It is quite common to read reports from 3rd-world countries during a civil war that shops and other businesses seem more full and busy than they did in time of “peace.”
The legendary economy of Hong Kong from 1945 to 1999 arose in large part due to the laissez-faire approach that the British government blundered into as a result of geopolitical concerns. The British needed to keep Hong Kong as a full colony to protect it, but that meant they could not allow a full fledged local democracy with the moral authority to impose a welfare and regulatory state. So they ended up with just a bare-bones government appointed by Britain that never tried to lay its hand too strongly on the people of Hong Kong.
Business people in Iraq find themselves in something of the same environment. The occupation government did not wish to get involved in potentially contentious economic policy, and the same lack of experience and consensus that keeps the newly elected Iraqi government from wiping out the insurgency also prevents it from implementing destructive economic policies. Left to their own devices and with huge pent up demand the Iraqi people are driving their economy strongly forward.