The Invisible Hook

The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates

PETER T. LEESON
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7t3fh
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Invisible Hook
    Book Description:

    Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss--it's time to go a-pirating!The Invisible Hooktakes 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 Hookuses 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 Hooklooks 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 Hookestablishes pirates' trailblazing relevance to the contemporary world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2986-6
    Subjects: Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. 1 THE INVISIBLE HOOK
    (pp. 1-22)

    Charybdis herself must have spat them into the sea. They committed “a Crime so odious and horrid in all its Circumstances, that those who have treated on that Subject have been at a loss for Words and Terms to stamp a sufficient Ignominy upon it.” Their contemporaries called them “Sea-monsters,” “Hell-Hounds,” and “Robbers, Opposers and Violators of all Laws, Humane and Divine.” Some believed they were “Devilsincarnate.” Others suspected they were “Children of the Wicked One” himself. “Danger lurked in their very Smiles.”

    For decades they terrorized the briny deep, inspiring fear in the world’s most powerful governments. The...

  6. 2 VOTE FOR BLACKBEARD THE ECONOMICS OF PIRATE DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 23-44)

    The field of office-seekers has been whittled down to four. An ardent supporter of one candidate stands up to deliver an important speech. He addresses the electorate, imploring his fellow voters to elect a leader “who by his Counsel and Bravery seems best able to defend this Commonwealth, and ward us from the Dangers and Tempests of an instable Element, and the fatal Consequences of Anarchy.” He finishes with a rousing endorsement of his man, “and such a one I take Roberts to be. A Fellow! I think, in all Respects, worthy of your Esteem and Favour.”

    If you had...

  7. 3 AN-ARRGH-CHY THE ECONOMICS OF THE PIRATE CODE
    (pp. 45-81)

    The average person has a clear idea of what life was like as a pirate. The very occupational choice of these rogues is enough to paint a vivid picture. It was raucous, reckless, and brutally rapacious. Pirates were liars, cheaters, and traitors. They were thieves, murderers, and sailors to boot. Pirate society must have been as orderly and honest as an asylum for the criminally insane.

    What’s more, pirates had no government. In fact, according to a petition from “the General Officers of the Army” to King George I, pirates were “profess’d Enemys to all Order and Government.” They consequently...

  8. 4 SKULL & BONES THE ECONOMICS OF THE JOLLY ROGER
    (pp. 82-106)

    A two-hundred-ton ship appears on the horizon. From a distance it looks harmless. It’s likely a merchantman, common in these waters, carrying cargo to the colonies. Your intuition is confirmed by the British ensign it flies, a red flag with the Union Jack in its upper-left corner. As she draws closer she hails and you oblige. You anticipate the standard civilities, perhaps to lend a helping hand. When the ship approaches nearer, however, you become suspicious. She’s indeed a merchantman, but a highly modified one. Ominously, instead of the usual six guns, she’s been reoutfitted with more than twenty. The...

  9. 5 WALK THE PLANK THE ECONOMICS OF PIRATE TORTURE
    (pp. 107-133)

    One of the most popular pirate images is the brute and bearded captain, perhaps with a hook for a hand and a parrot on one shoulder, barking at a prisoner with sadistic pleasure, “Walk the plank!” In the movies, the captain, standing at the edge of his ship, is surrounded by a mob of encouraging pirates, while the poor captive stands on a wooden beam jutting from the vessel’s side. Below him swirl the ominous and devouring waves of the sea, or perhaps even the fins of circling sharks. Movies and books depict this torture as a pirate pastime, a...

  10. 6 PRESSING PEGLEG THE ECONOMICS OF PIRATE CONSCRIPTION
    (pp. 134-155)

    In most people’s minds, conscription is as integral to pirate lore as parrots and peglegs. Popular pirate fiction repeatedly portrays the infamous “pirate press.” The press was as simple as it was terrible. On taking their prey, pirates gave captives two options: join the pirate crew or die. Confronted with this “choice,” many captives entered the pirate company. The frequency with which popular pirate culture has repeated this theme has created the perception that pirates conscripted virtuallyalltheir members. It plays into the perception, discussed in chapters 4 and 5, that pirates were blood-crazed killers who would just as...

  11. 7 EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL PREY THE ECONOMICS OF PIRATE TOLERANCE
    (pp. 156-175)

    Centuries before the civil rights movement, the ACLU, or the Equal Opportunity Act, some pirates had already adopted a policy of “hiring” black sailors in their crews. What’s more, these pirates extended suffrage to their black members and subscribed to the practice of “equal pay for equal work,” or rather, “equal pay for equal prey.” This is startling considering the views and policies towards blacks in the rest of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century world. In England government didn’t abolish slavery until 1772; and slaves in the British colonies didn’t enjoy freedom until 1833. In the United States slavery persisted until...

  12. 8 THE SECRETS OF PIRATE MANAGEMENT
    (pp. 176-193)

    Piracy’s peak in the eighteenth century lasted little more than a decade. But pirates’ swan song in the 1720s isn’t a reflection on their ineffectiveness. On the contrary, as previously mentioned, pirates ingeniously extended their presence as the odds mounted against them. And while they lasted, pirates were incredibly successful, sometimes earning in only a few months what it might have taken forty years to earn in legitimate maritime employment. Pirates’ demise had little to do with their defects and much to do with a stronger government determined to exterminate them. That pirates lasted as long as they did without...

  13. EPILOGUE: OMNIPRESENT ECONOMICS
    (pp. 194-196)

    Pirates provide at least one other lasting lesson: the ubiquity of economics. The rational choice framework, introduced in chapter 1, truly is a universal way of understanding human behavior. Every person who has goals and takes steps to attain those goals is susceptible to economic analysis. That pretty much covers everyone—from politicians, to lovers, to thieves. The power of economics isn’t just that itcanbe applied so widely. It’s thatonlywith economics can we make sense of a great deal of otherwise unintelligible individual behavior. Without economics, pirates, for example, are a veritable ball of contradictions. They’re...

  14. POSTSCRIPT: YOU CAN’T KEEP A SEA DOG DOWN: THE FALL AND RISE OF PIRACY
    (pp. 197-206)

    As the seventeenth century drew to a close, the Red Sea Men were busy marauding in the Indian Ocean to the English government’s growing consternation. Government responded to this situation at the beginning of the eighteenth century by emboldening its efforts to exterminate the watery rascals. Central to this endeavor was the Act for the More Effectual Suppression of Piracy, introduced in 1700, made permanent in 1719, and later bolstered through follow-up legislation. England didn’t have much chance to test drive its new antipiracy law, however. In 1702 it plunged headlong into the War of the Spanish Succession. During the...

  15. WHERE THIS BOOK FOUND ITS BURIED TREASURE A NOTE ON SOURCES
    (pp. 207-212)

    To say pirates weren’t as diligent note takers as we’d like would be putting it mildly. Historian Philip Gosse chalks this up to pirates’ “diffidence . . . in recording their own deeds.” But there are more obvious reasons why so few pirates put quill to parchment. Literacy limitations are one. According to historian Peter Earle, two-thirds of ordinary foremastmen on merchant ships could at least sign their names. Since pirates drew their members from the merchant sailor population, it stands to reason many pirates could do this as well. But it’s doubtful they could write full-fledged accounts of their...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 213-256)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 257-271)