Recent pirate attacks on the high seas, including the one that ended with the safe rescue of an American ship captain this weekend, are partly the result of a lack of attention paid internationally to illegal global economies, according to a University of Notre Dame anthropologist.
“Piracy is actually a very small part of the entire world of what’s taking place illegally,” says Carolyn Nordstrom, a professor of anthropology who specializes in transnational crime and globalization. “We have a huge flow of goods, money, people and services moving around the globe, crossing the lines of legality and illegality to try to maximize profit.
“It runs through our basic businesses, it shapes world economies, and it’s unrecorded,” she said. “We don’t have figures on it, so we can’t make policy that’s accurate on it.”
Nordstrom, whose books include “Global Outlaws: Crime, Money, and Power in the Contemporary World,” has traveled the world studying illegal trade routes and believes illegal economies are at the root of the current international economic crisis.
“This has been a critical part of the economic meltdown we’re suffering right now,” she says. “As a world, we have largely not asked the question: How do you calculate the entire illegal or illicit or informal impact of the economy on the world? Pirates make us ask this question. It’s not comfortable, but we will not avoid further severe meltdowns unless we start asking the same questions.”
“Until we address international crime, we will continue to suffer as we are now,” she said. “Pirates are aware of this and they exploit international boundaries.”