Pirate economics

There’s a good bit about the economics of piracy (the classic ARRRRRR! kind of piracy, rather than the modern Somali kind) in this article by Stephen Sedley in the London Review of Books, discussing The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates by Peter Leeson:

The pirate ship regimes for which records survive were quite a lot better than those of naval and merchant vessels. In the 1720s Bartholomew Roberts’s ship’s articles established an Athenian democracy on his vessel in relation to ‘Affairs of Moment’. They gave every man free access to the ship’s victuals unless the crew voted “a Retrenchment” for reasons of scarcity. Loot was to be distributed in equal shares, save that the captain and quartermaster were entitled to two shares, the master, boatswain and gunner to one and a half shares, and the other officers to one and a quarter. Until £1000 apiece had been shared out the ship’s company was indissoluble; from that point they were free to leave, but before then desertion or retreat in battle was punishable by death or marooning. There was generous provision for disability benefit. Gaming for money was banned; lights out was at 8 p.m., after which time any drinking was to be done on deck; fighting was banned (“Quarrels to be ended on Shore, at Sword and Pistol”); smuggling women or boys aboard carried the death penalty; and the ship evidently carried its own orchestra, with terms that could have been negotiated by the Musicians’ Union: “The Musicians to have Rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other Six days and Nights, none without special Favour.”

You might consider much of this to be beyond anything that economic reductionism can explain. You might even start to think more benignly about a micro-society in which, as Leeson puts it, a single share separated the top of the pay scale from the bottom. But pirates (lefties may or may not be relieved to learn) did not have a “quasi-socialist … ideology”. It was, as ever, economic self-interest in action: egalitarianism was the only way to stop envy, favouritism and greed from disrupting the piratical enterprise. Perhaps; but if so, even anarchism would seem to come within the explanatory power of free-market economism.

I love that the top pirates apparently only earned twice what the lower orders earned, compared to the 50:1, 80:1 or whatever pay differentials of modern companies.

Photos taken 9 Jul 2010

9 Jul 2010 at Twitter

  • 09:06am: @dorianmoore But when (if) the code finally works, all is good. Phew.
  • 09:25am: We've got the washing up situation sorted, but someone MIS-SHELVED A BOOK! Chaos, anarchy and revolution rule in #BRIG.
  • 01:33pm: Breakfast, Pepys, new office fans, Chart Hits 83, bloggage, ticking things off. Time for the weekend.
  • 02:53pm: Replaced one old, still wrapped Yellow Pages with a newer, smaller, wrapped Yellow Pages. They are simply memories of how we used to live.
  • 04:13pm: @synx508 Awww, but it's quite sweet to get a chunk of 20th century delivered every year.
  • 07:26pm: Talking people on the train are even more distracting and annoying when you realise they're almost exactly the same as you.

9 Jul 2010 in Writing

Publishing with old dates in Movable Type
What I did to make the Pepys’ Diary website work with 343-year-old dates in Movable Type.
Week 368
Getting on top of things.

9 Jul 2010 in Links

On this day I was reading

Music listened to most that week

  1. Ikonika (36)
  2. Throwing Muses (13)
  3. The Wolfgang Press (12)
  4. Dinosaur Jr. (10)
  5. Miles Davis (8)
  6. Luscious Jackson (7)
  7. Nick Drake (2)
  8. Wagon Christ (2)
  9. Yazoo (2)
  10. Pixies (2)

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