Pete Leeson’s paper, “An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization,” appears in the current issue of the Journal of Political Economy. In the paper, Pete provides a detailed analysis of the mechanisms of self-governance that facilitated cooperation among pirates. You can read the entire paper here. Here is the abstract:
This article investigates the internal governance institutions of violent criminal enterprise by examining the law, economics, and organization of pirates. To effectively organize their banditry, pirates required mechanisms to prevent internal predation, minimize crew conflict, and maximize piratical profit. Pirates devised two institutions for this purpose. First, I analyze the system of piratical checks and balances crews used to constrain captain predation. Second, I examine how pirates used democratic constitutions to minimize conflict and create piratical law and order. Pirate governance created sufficient order and cooperation to make pirates one of the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history.
The JPE also released a press release discussing Pete’s paper. Here is an excerpt:
While economists have long been fascinated with the financial organization of criminal enterprises, the impact of their political structure has long been overlooked. Piracy was a capital crime, so both the costs and benefits were quite high. But, as Leeson shows, pirates never lacked for “Brethren in Iniquity.” Plumbing the (often entertaining) court records of pirate trials, Leeson allows the pirates to speak for themselves as to why the pirate’s life was for them. Piracy exploded along with trade to the far-flung colonies. A captain of a trading ship was the representative of land-based merchants, and thus wielded complete authority—which was often abused—over the crew. Although a captain of a pirate ship wielded absolute authority in battle the pirates, in the words of one of their own, “constituted other Officers besides the Captain; so very industrious were they to avoid putting too much power into the hands of one Man.” Foremost among these officers was the quartermaster, who oversaw the distribution of provisions, division of booty, and general order aboard the ship.
This paper is part of Pete’s larger research project exploring the economics and governance of criminal organizations. He is also working on a book, The Invisible Hook, which is under contract with Princeton University Press and is scheduled to appear in 2009.
Please join me in congratulating Pete for these significant achievements.