12:59 p.m. October 16, 2013

Embattled “Marine Entrepreneurs” Pray for Longer Shutdown

The Shutdown crisis has given almost all the different focus groups in the giant talk show we call America a chance to have their say. But there’s one constituency that hasn’t been heard from. And yet this under-reported, under-represented interest group has as much at stake in the Shutdown debate as anybody. Their livelihoods, and even their lives, could depend on keeping government comatose.

I’m talking, of course, about the Somali pirates. Three years ago, these small businessmen seemed intent on proving that, in a world of huge, faceless corporations, there was still room for the little guys—specifically the little guys in little boats who zoomed up to giant, faceless corporate cargo ships and demanded a share in the profits in return for not killing the crew.

This was libertarianism in action. Long ago, libertarian theorists suggested that when governments had been destroyed, lighthouses would be run by entrepreneurs who would zoom up to ships benefiting from their light to demand payment. The Somali pirates did these theorists one better. They effectively declared the waters between the Horn of Africa and the coast of Yemen a toll road—after all, what is this so-called “law of the sea” but the tragedy of the commons all over again? By privatizing the ocean, the pirates were able to strike a blow at marine communalism, and make a darned good living in the process. As for price, they let the market determine the amount, as in, “How much do you got?”

Ayn Rand herself would have been overjoyed to see the transformation wrought on the Somali coast. Where once there had been only wretched shacks, mansions were going up, and luxury cars were bouncing over the dusty local roads.

And the money really did trickle down. Even non-pirates cashed in on this booming free market by claiming to be pirates and getting paid for interviews by trusting Western documentary makers.

And then, after years of boom, came the bust. The villain? As always, it was Big Government interference. In 2009, a six-nation alliance created Combined Task Force 151 to quash the boom in small business on the high seas.

Ships from the navies of the USA, UK, Pakistan, South Korea, Australia and Turkey formed an anti-business cartel, agreeing to send patrols in rotation with their taxpayer-funded vessels. The US government provided the bulk of the enforcement apparatus, based in Fifth Fleet HQ in Bahrain. Elements of the CTF included a SWAT-style VBSS (“Visit, Board, Search and Seizure”) team of the sort deplored by Radley Balko. The trademark black helicopters were present too, operated by a USMC squadron. All the might of the world’s governments seemed to bear down on the frail craft piloted by a few brave men with the courage to say “No!” to communalism. And some RPGs, of course, to make sure the target audience listened.

This lopsided struggle could have only one outcome: The triumph of Bolshevism and the destruction of small business. In 2009, there were 181 successful marine interventions, or as the government media prefers to call them, “pirate attacks.” In 2012, there were only four. Mansions, half-finished, languished on the Puntland coast. Restauranteurs in the coastal city of Eyl went broke, deprived of hostages to feed.

Big government’s reach seemed infinite. A former negotiator with the so-called “pirates” was entrapped in Belgium, where he had been lured with the promise of film work, demonstrating that neither the sanctity of movie work nor the venerable status of Brussels as a non-law zone had any meaning for statists.

It looked like the end for the “little guys” of marine enterprise. But help came from distant comrades. In October 2013, the Tea Party, bastion of America’s libertarians, jammed a 2x4 into the gears of the American governmental juggernaut, bringing it to a screeching halt. Perhaps men like Ted Cruz were not thinking of Somalia’s brave mariners in small boats, but if they had, they would have recognized allies who shared their values, allies worth helping.

As the Shutdown of the US government began rippling through the vast network of repression, the Somali coast began to see hope—if only their fellow libertarians in the US Congress could hold out against the statists. With money running out, the gears of CTF 151’s repressive machinery ground to a halt. On October 14, sources close to the Task Force’s leaders reported that:

“Should Congress not raise the "debt ceiling" in the coming hours, international public-safety services like CTF-151 will likely shut down. If this immediate threat is averted, but "sequestration" continues to eat into Navy training, repairs, and procurement, they'll be doing less.”

And so the matter rests…for now. All along the coast of Somalia, eager entrepreneurs are checking their outboards, scouring their hulls, and alerting the shipmates who have proved themselves in so many seagoing interventions past. They are looking out to sea as they have done so many times, dreaming of a fat tanker or cargo vessel, perhaps even a yacht full of billionaire hedonists who imagine themselves untouchable by mere “little guys.”

They are listening carefully for the sounds of silence—the silence that comes when the grim machinery of Big Government shuts down, and the ominous gray hulks of American naval vessels no longer take to the open water.

Will freedom-loving representatives far away, in Washington D.C., hold the line, giving small business a chance to level the oceanic playing field in the Gulf of Aden? Or will the grim, gray juggernauts of Big G. once again rule the waves?

The Somali entrepreneurs can only wait, and watch, and pray.