Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Causes of Piracy

At the request of my friend and colleague Arun Iyer, I looked into the causes of piracy in Somalia.

Historically piracy is the direct result of poor working conditions, dire poverty, and systematic economic exploitation of the lower classes. As the following quote makes clear:

In an honest Service, there is thin Commons, low Wages, and hard Labour; in this, Plenty and Satiety, Pleasure and Ease, Liberty and Power; and who would not balance Creditor on this Side, when all the Hazard that is run for it, at worst, is only a sower Look or two at choaking. No, a merry Life and a short one shall be my Motto

—Pirate Captain Bartholomew Roberts

This does not mean Pirates are nice simple folk. Indeed, they are usually a rough and criminal type. But what gives them the final push into piracy is the economic despair they find themselves in. Take that away and you take away the root cause of piracy. Try simply to fight them or execute them and you just create heroes and martyrs to inspire more pirates.

Check out the following clip from Democracy Now after doing so, I highly recommend reading Two Piracies in Somalia

What is very clear from this interview and this essay is, just as in past centuries, Piracy is the direct result of economic exploitation and dire poverty. By all means arrest and punish pirates for their crimes. I think, however, the crimes that lead to piracy must also be stamped out if we are actually to end it.

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  1. There are many people in a similar circumsance, poor working conditions, dire poverty, economic exploitation, yet they are not pirates. Isn't the final push the fact they are criminal types, and the economic situation a, major perhaps, influence. After all, they have to think or belief that piracy is a valid solution to their problem

  2. O.k. Sure. I'm not excusing them. I mentioned that they were criminal types. It's the same thing with Terrorism, Terrorism is typically a response to be oppressed, but many people are not terrorist when oppressed.

    My point is NOT that it is permissible to be a Pirate or a Terrorist, but that there are social and economic factors that, if removed, would reduce piracy and terrorism.

    by analogy, take a look at the American Ghetto, say Milwaukee's north side, or the south side of Chicago. There are so many gangs, and so much crime in those areas. This is a direct response to poverty, discrimination and police brutality. But of course there are many people in these circumstance that don't turn to crime. Still ... addressing the underlying social situation is the only real way to get at the crime.

    Of course, I'm sure you agree with all that. So I suspect we are on the same page.


Comments from many different points of view are welcome. But I will not publish any comments that are hateful, insulting, or filled with profanity. I welcome and encourage dialogue and disagreement but will not publish any hate speech.