An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization
Peter T. Leeson, Department of Economics, West Virginia University
This paper investigates the internal governance institutions of violent criminal enterprise by examining the law, economics, and organization of pirates. To sectively organize their banditry, pirates required mechanisms to prevent internal predation, minimize crew conflict, and maximize piratical profit. I argue that pirates devised two institutions for this purpose. First, I analyze the system of piratical checks and balances that crews used to constrain captain predation. Second, I examine how pirates used democratic constitutions to minimize contact and create piratical law and order. Remarkably, pirates adopted both of these institutions before the United States or England. Pirate governance created sufficient order and cooperation to make pirates one of the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history.This is the kind of political economy I can get behind. From the conclusion
Second, the institutions that comprised the pirates' system of governance -- democratic checks, the separation of power, and constitutions -- are remarkably similar to those governments employ to constrain ruler predation in the legitimate world. Government does not have a monopoly on these institutions of governance any more than it has a monopoly on the ability to generate cooperation and order...organized criminals are as interested in creating order among themselves as non- criminals. They, too, have an incentive to develop solutions to obstacles that otherwise prevent them from cooperating for mutual gain. The fact that their cooperation is directed at someone els's loss does not alter this. Thus, while Captain Charles Johnson described the pirates' criminal organization as "that abominable Society," it is important to acknowledge that, however abominable, it was nevertheless a society (Johnson 1726-1728: 114).Some anarchists/libertarians get stuck on the idea that governments are nothing more than very successful criminal gangs. There is some truth in that, but not that much. Governments dont simply deploy force, they deploy force in ways that are legitimated by various rationales in a way that makes them more or less grudgingly accepted by their citizens/subjects. A good government is one that has tamed its criminality by means of law, institutions, and cultural norms -- but this is never a complete process, as the expanding criminality of the US government demonstrates all too well.
This study comes at this issue from the opposite end, showing that not only are governments criminal gangs, but criminal gangs are governments -- and they too can occupy a spectrum of good and bad, where good means roughly that they successfully implement rules that lead to greater levels of prductive cooperation.
The naive anarchist gets the idea that governments == violence and opposes government. The post-anarchist realizes that violence and coercion are part of reality, and you have a choice of unruly, random, chaotic violence; or violence constrained by productive institutions.