Relative Pirate Populations
March 28, 2014 5:28 PM   Subscribe

A friend told me that there are more pirates now then there were during the Golden Age of Piracy. But the population back then was like 600 million people, so that doesn't surprise me. But are there more pirates now than there were then as a percent of the population?
posted by Garm to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It is a tough question to answer because what constitutes "pirate" is extremely variable. "Pirates" in the "Golden Age" could include privateers (who would be pirates to one nation but not another), mutinous sailors, rebellious slaves, or any number of groups who were resistant to authority in some way in addition to "pirates" in the more criminal sense of the word. Similarly, other activities today might be considered "piracy" in an earlier sense of the word. The idea of a "pirate" conjures up a specific romantic idea but was used in a variety of ways to denote one who was considered "the enemy of all mankind" though was often (but not always) an enemy of an entrenched structure of power.
posted by synecdoche at 5:45 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think your friend might be including people who torrent as part of the modern Pirate count.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:16 PM on March 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Copyright pirates... If you include counterfeiters and scammers, yes, beacause modern capitalism and globalization also spawn illegal or sub-legal profiteering.
posted by bad grammar at 8:35 AM on March 29, 2014

Given that piracy is basically defined by (the absence of) a relationship with state authority, and given that the nature of state authority and its patterns of exercise have changed quite dramatically since, say, the 17th century, I don't think that there's any clear good way to make an apples to some kind of fruit comparison.
posted by PMdixon at 9:51 AM on March 29, 2014

Now, if we're looking only at maritime piracy, the massive overall decline in the population of sailors on modern mechanized vessels....I would guesstimate that yeah, even allowing for ambiguity in the old numbers, you could argue that even today's modest amount of piracy counts as a much larger percentage. Because any ship going on the account these days would probably result in a whole-number gain in the percentage of pirates.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:21 PM on March 29, 2014

If you're the kind of person who believes copyright infringement is piracy, then almost certainly yes. If you've ever sung "Happy Birthday" in public, you're probably a pirate.
posted by hades at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2014

It's well know that the lack of pirates is causing global warming (c.f. :)

So you may find some real numbers about current pirate populations by looking for people making the pirate - global warming correlation...
posted by NoDef at 7:22 PM on March 29, 2014

I've heard this stat and believe it's purely maritime piracy, not some "illegal downloaders" bollocks.

according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2009 there were ~1400 Somali pirates operating off the coast of Somalia, accounting for slightly over half of the instances of piracy in that year. assuming a similar ratio of pirates to instances of piracy elsewhere in the world that gives us ~2600 active pirates in 2009. I have no trouble believing that's more pirates than existed during the Golden Age of Piracy.
posted by russm at 12:51 AM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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