Law and Economics of Pirate Tolerance

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* Essay: The Invisible Hook: The Law and Economics of Pirate Tolerance. Peter Leeson. New York University Journal of Law and Liberty



"Can criminal profit-seeking generate socially desirable outcomes? This article investigates this question by examining the economics of pirate tolerance. At a time when British merchant ships treated blacks as slaves, some pirate ships integrated black bondsmen into their crews as full-fledged and free members. This racial tolerance was not the product of enlightened notions of equality. Rather, it was forged in the selfinterested context of the criminally-determined costs and benefits of pirate slavery. Analogous to Adam Smith’s invisible hand, whereby lawful commercial self-interest seeking can generate socially desirable outcomes, among pirates there was an “invisible hook,” whereby criminal selfinterest seeking produced a socially desirable outcome in the form of racial tolerance."


Danny Spitzberg:

"The ever-present “mutiny” element helped pirate ships become both competitive and democratic. On pirate ships, captains only earned 2x the rest of the crew, and could be replaced whenever they displayed cowardice or failed to go after a bounty. Occasionally, pirate ships would form a fleet for collective action against really big bounty. They also had many black crew members who were free men and participated at all levels, from crew to captain. The merchant marine, on the other hand, operated as a slave ship with 6x differences in income and a punitive approach to handling nearly everything. Mercantilism helped build empires, but even good commerce is hardly democracy." (