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The Economics of Piracy: Jon Stewart Agrees with Me!

Posted on April 7 2010 8:30 am
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Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart recognized my brilliance. It’s been a long time in coming. He was interviewing Captain Richard Phillips, author of The Captain’s Duty, who is the man that was kidnapped by Somali pirates that only recognized that their business wasn’t working so well for them when they had bullets from snipers in them.

I started my career as an analyst for a maritime security company, and the number one thing that shocked me was the limits on how crews are permitted to defend themselves.

Watch the video below and watch Stewart’s shock at how Phillips and his men had to try to fight the Somali pirates:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Richard Phillips
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Yup, you heard that right. Hoses and flares. And that’s not an isolated incident. Axes, bats, devices to make ear-piercing noises, etc. is what people shipping our goods have to use to fight attackers. When Phillips’ capture made news, I wrote:

Want to know why pirates are hijacking and holding people for ransom? Because it works. The truth is that in places around the world where criminality is a profitable business, piracy is a pretty wise investment with nice returns and little risk. The only thing standing between you and the prize are unarmed crewmembers prepared to combat your guns with axes and hoses.

The pirates are acting entirely out of economic interest. They don’t suicide bomb their targets. They don’t say it’s part of a grand jihad, even if al-Qaeda roots them on and does business with them. They don’t make political demands. They want money — and that means victory will come when piracy becomes an unsuccessful business enterprise.

This doesn’t mean that piracy isn’t something that Al-Qaeda hasn’t invested in, as I documented here. That makes changing these rules, whether they exist because of government regulation or restrictions from insurance companies unwilling to cover the cost of accidents, all the more important.

I wrote in my first article that capitalism, if unrestrained, will force the pirates out of business as tools to fight them are sold for profit and companies find it worth the cost to arm their crews, but this will only happen if government doesn’t stand in the way. Pirates attack these ships specifically because they are unarmed. Arm them, and the cost becomes too high for the pirates. How hard of a concept is that to understand?

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