Libertarian solution to piracy: more piracy by mattsteinglass
April 16, 2009, 1:49 pm
Filed under: Conservatism, Crime, Terrorism, Transportation

Josh Marshall notes Ron Paul‘s intriguing proposal for combating Somali-style piracy: issuing “Letters of Marque and Reprisal”.

“We shouldn’t put prohibitions in their way. We shouldn’t say that they can’t carry guns. Because quite frankly, I think the companies are capable of dealing with this. But it also raises the subject of the, principle of the “Marque and Reprisal”. The “Marque and Reprisal” principle was used in our early years, lo and behold, for pirates. And that means that, under international agreement and understanding, and a letter coming from our US Congress, those ships do have a right under international law to defend themselves.”

As Marshall notes, this isn’t really what “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” were. They were, rather, licenses issued by one country to captains allowing them to practice piracy against the ships of other countries, generally countries the first country was at war with. Paul’s proposal makes no sense because no private entrepreneur is going to be interested in a license to sail to the Horn of Africa and rob dirt-poor Somalis whose only possessions are rubber dinghies, outboard motors and AK-47s. As for the merchant ships themselves, they don’t need Letters of Marque; they have the right to defend themselves under international law right now. The reason merchant crews don’t carry arms is that ship owners don’t want their crews carrying arms, because they’re afraid of shipboard unrest.

But at a deeper level, Paul’s proposals seems to me like one of those moments that touches on the weakness of the libertarian project. Maximalist libertarians find it almost impossible to recognize that there are any problems created by individual liberty that can’t be solved with more individual liberty, any flaws in free markets that can’t be solved with more free markets. Problems with widespread gun ownership? Solution: more gun ownership! Problems with unregulated financial institutions? Solution: more deregulation of financial institutions! Problems with the private health system? Solution: more privatization of the health system! Even with a good as transparently public as safety on the high seas, you’ve got Ron Paul arguing that the solution is to issue licenses to private entrepreneurs. Because if piracy is illegal, only criminals will be pirates. It’s silly.


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