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