Monday, November 17, 2008

A libertarian response to piracy in the waters around Somalia

Somalia and other poor countries in the area of the Gulf of Aden have no navies to speak--arguably, they have no governments to speak of, either.

Which is creating a problem for some shippers in the area, as the same sort of piracy that infests parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, the South China Sea, and other cesspools around the world has opened up for business.

The US Navy has admitted that it cannot cover all such areas, and in this case the assets available are not up to the task.

So shippers and even the local governments are looking to private companies to help safeguard merchant traffic.

Larger outfits like Blackwater are actually commissioning anti-piracy vessels, while start-ups like Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions are placing small teams of former special forces troops aboard the ships. It's working.

Maybe this company should have invested in some protection.

Oh, but wait! That was a Saudi-owned tanker, and the Saudis labor under the delusion that the US is fully responsible for providing their security, pretty much anywhere in the world.

There are two ways to look at this: a Libertarian perspective would suggest that if you are going to transport goods through known dangerous areas, then you--the merchant ship owner--should foot the bill for you own protection, and not farm it out to me in taxes to support US Navy operations in faraway locales. This is especially true when almost all the vessels in question do not fly American flags.

Of course, the alternate view is presented vy XStryker at DelawareLiberal:

This would be a great time for a joint UN Naval taskforce. Honestly, what else are the navies of the world good for? We need to create safe international shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and across the Indian Ocean.

I like that plaintive Honestly, what else are the navies of the world good for?

Let's think about this for the moment. XStryker (and others who share a similar opinion) would like the cost of keeping the sea-lanes open to be assumed by the States powerful enough to have extensive blue-water or even littoral navies, even though 99% of those vessels have chosen to flag themselves under the auspices of minor countries--minor countries that (surprise, surprise) have low tax rates and no navies!

So what XStryker essentially wants me as a taxpayer to do is pony up the money to subsidize these merchants so that they can keep their costs down and their profits up. Many--if not most--of these vessels are not even headed toward America--so I don't even any direct benefit. This is actually what my liberal and progressive friends like to call socializing loss while privatizing gain--not that I expect them to display any sense of irony about that.

So here's the choice I would give those companies: Flag your ships with a country that actually has the ability to protect them (accepting the taxes and regulations that come with such a decision) or pay for your own damn security.

Yes, that will add some cost to some of the products I purchase, but I will only be paying that extra on the products I actually buy. In other words, the cost of security will essentially become a direct consumption tax.

The alternative is to have all shippers who want protection from the world's existing navies to post a bond for each vessel worth 10% of the sale price of its cargo, automatically payable on demand through Swiss banks whenever they receive assistance from a State navy. (To avoid the underestimation of cargo value, simply allow the Navy in question to purchase the entire cargo at the stated value in alternative to accepting the 10%.)

As for potential human rights violations against would-be pirates: color me unconcerned.


Anonymous said...

Well, I have to admit, hiring Blackwater - AKA fighting pirates with pirates - has a certain appeal (I'm sure it would make a fine Johnny Depp movie). But my concern is not humanitarian at all - these pirates are stealing weapons and fuel and selling them to terrorists. We ignore them at our peril. I could care less about Saudi interests.

Steven H. Newton said...

Stealing weapons and selling them to terrorists--a non-existent problem. Terrorists have quite an adequate supply of weaponry from the usual channels, this is a miniscule trickle. Besides, unless oil tankers were actually defended, how would capturing them get the pirates weapons.

As for stealing fuel--big whup. In the global scheme of things the amount of fuel they can steal and sell is not miniscule, it's microscopic.

The Saudis have plenty of petro-dollars available to pay for their own tanker security--or they can take the longer route around Africa if they feel insecure.

You haven't named a single reason for US or other major naval forces to be involved in this issue.

Anonymous said...

American ships rarely have these difficulties, because an adequate fraction of American freighters have arms lockers and crews trained to use them. This leads to difficulties entering Australian ports.