Book about "the surprising, and surprisingly tame, self-organization of pirates"

Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason reviewed The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates, by Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason University.
So the great age of piracy began [after 1714], and it lasted about a decade. During this period, between 1,000 and 2,000 pirates terrorized the seas at any given time. That may not seem like many, but keep in mind that the entire population of the North American colonies back then was only about 150,000. Navies and merchant sailors outnumbered pirates, with 13,000 men in the British Navy alone, but pirates had the better gig.

Leeson begins with a look inside the piratical pocketbook. In peaceful years, annual pay for legit sailors was £25, equivalent to around $4,000 today. A big haul for a pirate crew, on the other hand, might bring in between £300 and £1,000 per man for a few months’ work. If legally sanctioned sailor pay was bad, the working conditions were worse. Captains on merchant ships held absolute power over their crews, and they regularly ordered floggings, revoked pay or rations, or tied men to the mast. Sailors could sue when they got home, and they occasionally won, but that’s cold comfort when you’re six months at sea, stripes from the lash stinging your back, and ordered to forfeit your rum ration.

Blackbeard Economics: The surprising, and surprisingly tame, self-organization of pirates.


  1. Arrrr!!! And our healthcarrrrre system be a thing ‘o beauty too!

    Fair seas and a followin’ wind t’ ye,


  2. The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh is another good book about the general equality among pirates and the absolute misery of working for the Queen’s navy.

  3. The Continental Congress had few ships so a deal was cut with “privateers” to harass the Brits. The captain’s share and the crews share of the take was generous with the CC taking only a piece. The ship’s owner took the entire risk of capture and destruction.
    What galled the Brits before the war was that merchant ships from the colonies (mostly out of Salem) were engaged in trade with China.
    At the start of the Revolutionary War the privateers were taking ships in the Canadian trade. By the end of the war they were taking ships in British coastal waters. And they were fearless.

  4. @2. Haven’t read the book, but I assume it must have been about the King’s Navy, at least between the time of Elizabeth I and Victoria.

  5. #2 you got there first – The Many Headed Hydra is the book on this subject, an awesome and inspirational read.

  6. Weren’t most ‘pirates’ really just mutineers? After all, being a captain whose crew ‘turns pirate’ sounds a whole lot better than one whose crew ‘got sick of taking yer crap and beat it out of you’.

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