The piracy epidemic underway off the coast of Africa, with its many-faceted nature, is a good example of what’s wrong with the world today. By digging through the hidden complications of that problem and getting to the heart of the matter, we should be able to open avenues to healing the world at large. Let’s give it a try!
Let’s begin with a common misperception of the situation. Here in the Northern hemisphere, the problem seems simple: Bands of African renegades are hijacking US and European ships for the sake of extortion. They kidnap the ships’ crews and demand ransom. Simple solution: Protect the ships and thwart the pirates.
From the southern hemisphere, though, things are more complicated. First, there’s severe overpopulation, stirring up famine, disease, war, and mass execution, locking some African countries in desperate straits, compelling many citizens of those more troubled countries to do whatever it takes to survive. 
Second, European hospitals and industries pay the Italian mafia bargain rates to get rid of nuclear waste and toxic heavy metals, which the mobsters load aboard ships and (you guessed it!) dump off the coast of Africa. The toxins wash ashore, poisoning the people and the land. Rather than idly watching this gross violation of their homeland, some young African men resort to piracy as a means of standing up to the invaders from the North.
Third, fishing conglomerates in the industrialized North (in both Europe and Asia), having depleted their own coastal waters of seafood, now send their trawlers to steal nearly a million dollars a day in shrimp, lobster, and tuna off the coast of Africa . . . another gross indignation driving some young Africans to piracy.
Granted, there are also thugs in Africa, as there are everywhere, who jump into the conflict for the thrill of crime and the promise of easy riches, but when the piracy epidemic is observed in its entirety, from a distance, where political borders and national interests begin to blur, it’s not so easy to determine who all of the culprits really are.
Heart of the problem
So what’s at the heart of Somalian piracy? It seems to be a global economic crisis caused largely by overpopulation in the South and overdevelopment in the North. These two growing conditions fuel desperation in both hemispheres that will probably cause them to clash with growing frequency in the coming years if we humans don’t get to the heart of the matter very soon.
So let’s go to the heart of the problem now and try to get a handle on the bad economics that manifests as overpopulation in poor countries and as overdevelopment in rich countries. First of all, can we solve those problems with the tools of modern economics? Probably not. Most modern economists essentially ignore overpopulation in the South, and they look at unbridled economic growth in the North not as a problem but as a measure of success and stability–exactly the opposite of what it really is.
What it’ll take is a new way of looking at ourselves as human beings, as social groups, and as a single planetary species. It’ll take a new economics. I’ve been developing just that during the past 25 years, and it’s summed up in something I call the Vitality Ratio . I plan to write more about that in coming articles, but if you’re interested in a preview, just follow the link.
 The birthrates in most African nations such as Somalia (where most of the piracy occurs) exceed 40 births per 1,000 people per year. Doing the math, then, the average African woman has 7 babies in her lifetime, and if everyone lived to age 70, the population would double in less than two decades. That can’t happen, of course, because natural limits to growth, such as famine and war, happen continuously to curb population ruthlessly… and the horrific cycle continues until countries learn how to limit population in humane ways, through sensible family planning programs. The population problem extends beyond Africa, but when we humans get serious about solving the world crisis, that would be a good place to start.
 “You are being lied to about pirates,” by Johann Hari, “The Independent,” UK
 “The battle against illegal fishing off east Africa’s coast,” The Economist (Aug 3, 2006).
 “The Vitality Ratio,” from The Project.