In the end, what is the core driver of each pirate? The argument could be made that it is economics. While much of the discussion about piracy has been in the fields of lawfare, tactics, diplomacy, and a bit of the, whatchacallit, The Global War on Overseas Contingency Operations Infinitely Enduring Freedom’s Justice – or sump’n. Perhaps the Dismal Science has something to add to our knowledge base on piracy. Let’s go to the bookshelf. This sounds like an interesting – and timely book, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates
Economist Leeson leads readers though a surprisingly entertaining crash course in economics in this study of high seas piracy at the turn of the 18th century. Far from being the bloodthirsty fiends portrayed in popular culture, pirates created a harmonious social order; through the application of rational choice theory, the author explains how a common pursuit of individual self-interest led pirates to create self-regulating, democratic societies aboard their ships, complete with checks and balances, more than half a century before the American and French revolutions brought such models to state-level governance. Understanding the profit motive that guided pirates’ actions reveals why pirates so cruelly tortured the crews of ships that resisted boarding, yet treated those who surrendered readily with the utmost respect. Both practices worked to minimize costs to the pirate crew by discouraging resistance that could lead to loss of life and limb for pirates and damage to either the pirates’ ship or the cargo aboard. Illustrated with salty tales of pirates both famous and infamous, the book rarely bogs down even when explaining intricate economic concepts, making it a great introduction to both pirate history and economic theory.
History, economics, pirates – tell me Eagle1, what is there not to like? For those trying to understand piracy today, this may be a good book to add to your list. Any ship in the 5th Flt AOR should have this in the Wardroom; awww heck, make that any AOR. If you want, via NRO’s “Between the Covers” you can hear John J. Miller interview the author here. Crossposted (and of course, anyone who is looking for a new book should browse USNIBooks collection first).