Tineke Netelenbos, former minister of Verkeer en Waterstaat and currently presiding over the Royal Federation of Shipping Companies appeared in the news today to sound the alarm about piracy – not digital piracy (does anyone still care about that?), but the swinging, swashbuckling kind (see above). According to Netelenbos, the continued threat of piracy and the Dutch laws that prohibit the protection of ships by private armed guards are causing an increasing number of shipping companies to “reflag” their ships – basically, circumventing Dutch law by registering their ships under a jurisdiction that will allow the use of private armed forces. This means lost revenues for the Dutch state and diminished standing for the traditionally strong Dutch merchant fleet.

A lot has been said on the topic of present-day piracy and there’s little point in rehashing that here. That private enterprise complains when the state does not do enough – and also when the state does too much, as the case may be – is not new and it must be recognized that their concerns are not groundless. A recent report from Oceans beyond piracy puts the number of hijack attempts in 2011 at nearly 200 (then again, the report also inaccurately claims that the Dutch allow private armed guards on their vessels). But neither does it take a legal scholar to recognize that there is something deeply problematic about having the state surrender its monopoly on force to accommodate private or even semi-public, mercantilist interests. Volker Eick has analyzed the policy debate in Germany and concludes that Germany’s decision to allow private armed guards on board commercial shipping vessels in effect subverts democratic oversight and constitutional safeguards. Rule of law, but only if it doesn’t get in the way of what is truly important…

It’s a cynical position, perhaps, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we seem to be moving from the nightwatcher state to the welfare state to the “random state”, which has abandoned all pretense at principle in favor of “expediency”. What results is a global competition who can be the most “expedient”. Need Rambo on your ship? Come to us! Need nimble children’s fingers to assemble your stuff? Come to us! Need to get rid of your nuclear waste? Come to us! This competition, we are assured, in the end results in the most optimal distribution of goods and services and prosperity for all.

Instead, we get piracy and privateers. Arr.