Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ARRGGHH... The Stakes Be High, Says I!

When you pay ransom to a hostage-taking pirate, traditional economic theory suggests that you increase the returns to piracy, encouraging more of it. If you kill a hostage-taking pirate, you increase the cost of piracy, which should discourage would-be pirates from taking to the seas.

The response by the Somali pirates to the U.S. Navy's recent killing of three pirates has been just the opposite though. These gangs say they are now devoted to revenge-taking over more ships and taking more hostages than ever. The cost of doing business has risen, and yet they want to do more of this business than ever. Why do you think this is?

Discussion Questions

1. In order to quickly obtain large ransoms, pirates must signal a credible threat to cargo ship owners. How might this credibility issue play into the pirates' response to the actions of the U.S. government?

2. The pirates killed by U.S. Navy snipers were holding an American captain of an American boat with an American crew. Might governments respond differently in situations involving multi-national crews?

3. The pirates who were killed were likely just henchmen with little power in the criminal organization. Did the "cost of doing business" really rise very much for the pirates running the organization?

4. In what ways does the government provision of naval security in international waters resemble a public good? Might the current allocation of security (both private and public) in international waters be inefficiently low?

5. From the standpoint of ransom maximization for a small individual gang of pirates, what is the optimal amount of piracy? What is the ransom maximizing strategy if the piracy off the Somali coast is coordinated by a cartel of gang lords?

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