A couple of months ago, I got in the mail a review copy of a then-forthcoming book. I usually don't focus much on such copies (unless they're science fiction or fantasy, or unless they're by someone whose work I know and like), but this one grabbed my interest from the outset. I read it and much enjoyed it, and decided that I had to have the author guest-blog about the subject. The book is now out, and I'm delighted to report that the author will be with us this week to discuss it.
The author, Peter Leeson, is an economics professor at George Mason University, and the author of more than 60 academic journal articles analyzing a wide range issues in political economy and law and economics. And the book is The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, which uses basic economic theory to explain and explore infamous pirate behaviors. (We're talking the 1700s "Arrrh!" pirates, the cool and romantic ones that are safely in the past, not the modern ones that are actually a danger to us today, though the author briefly touches on the modern pirates near the end.) Here's a summary of the book from Princeton University Press:
Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss — it's time to go a-pirating! The Invisible Hook takes readers inside the wily world of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century pirates. With swashbuckling irreverence and devilish wit, Peter Leeson uncovers the hidden economics behind pirates' notorious, entertaining, and sometimes downright shocking behavior. Why did pirates fly flags of Skull & Bones? Why did they create a "pirate code"? Were pirates really ferocious madmen? And what made them so successful? The Invisible Hook uses economics to examine these and other infamous aspects of piracy. Leeson argues that the pirate customs we know and love resulted from pirates responding rationally to prevailing economic conditions in the pursuit of profits.
The Invisible Hook looks at legendary pirate captains like Blackbeard, Black Bart Roberts, and Calico Jack Rackam, and shows how pirates' search for plunder led them to pioneer remarkable and forward-thinking practices. Pirates understood the advantages of constitutional democracy — a model they adopted more than fifty years before the United States did so. Pirates also initiated an early system of workers' compensation, regulated drinking and smoking, and in some cases practiced racial tolerance and equality. Leeson contends that pirates exemplified the virtues of vice — their self-seeking interests generated socially desirable effects and their greedy criminality secured social order. Pirates proved that anarchy could be organized. Revealing the democratic and economic forces propelling history's most colorful criminals, The Invisible Hook establishes pirates' trailblazing relevance to the contemporary world.