Pharyngula

Pirate economics?

Normally, I can’t be motivated to read economics—no offense, economists, but I think the economics part of my brain got left behind on one of my many moves around the country, and it was locked in to one particular latitude and longitude anyway—but maybe adding a little swashbuckling and really bad puns in the title would help. Hilzoy has found some interesting examples, anyway. Here’s the abstract to one:

This paper investigates the internal governance institutions of violent criminal enterprise by examining the law, economics, and organization of pirates. To effectively
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 conflict 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.

Maybe I should read that more carefully. If a group as anarchic as pirates could find a way to stably organize, maybe there are some hints for us atheists.

No, gang, boarding churches and looting them of their wealth probably isn’t a viable strategy to give us a unifying profit motive. We’re going to have to think about something more abstract. Although I do confess that a viking lifestyle does have some appeal…

Comments

  1. #1 Alan
    June 15, 2007

    “Humanist chaplain”

    “Secular rabbi”

    “Atheistic fundamentalism”

    “Piratical law and order”

  2. #2 Russell
    June 15, 2007

    It shows the richness of our world that there are indeed examples of all those oxymorons.

  3. #3 swangelok
    June 15, 2007

    Where did I hear that one of the most profitable operations in the London stock market started as a way to finance ships and crews for pirates?

  4. #4 Hank Fox
    June 15, 2007

    I love the phrase “the system of piratical checks and balances.”

    But ” … boarding churches and looting them of their wealth probably isn’t a viable strategy …” is right on, since churches are (partly) already piratical organizations.

    “Avast, ye lubbers, give til it hurts, aaargh, and Lord Blackbeard will bless ye with continued (eternal) life!”

  5. #5 Hank Fox
    June 15, 2007

    … and two to one there’s a book on personal wealth building within a year titled something like “Piranomics: How to Survive and Prosper through the Coming Rough Economic Seas.”

  6. #6 Mark Plus
    June 15, 2007

    Piracy provided socio-economic mobility for people from the lower classes, and pirates often targeted ships loaded with the proceeds from slavery and other forms of economic exploitation. So in some respects, the pirate lifestyle looks like a form of resistance against an unjust social system.

  7. #7 Justin Moretti
    June 15, 2007

    boarding churches and looting them of their wealth

    Crimson Permanent Assurance, anyone?

  8. #8 Gremlin
    June 15, 2007

    Close, Hank, very close.

    The actual title will be “Piranomics: Why Free-Bootery Works and Other Half-Baked Theories of Income Re-distribution Don’t”.

    It’s kind of an homage to Gordon Gekko, 20 years later.

  9. #9 Jim D
    June 15, 2007

    “Although I do confess that a viking lifestyle does have some appeal…”

    Be sure to trim your fingernails, though, PZ.

    Jim D.

  10. #10 Monado
    June 15, 2007

    Privateers were licensed pirates – with a licence from their government to prey on the ships of a foreign government.

  11. #11 Ed Darrell
    June 15, 2007

    Pirates? Ain’t we all pirates at heart?

    That was the theory that James Madison worked on in drawing up the Constitution, with the tacit agreement of Jefferson and Franklin, and grudging agreement from Hamilton (who was a real bastard — no, I mean real bastard — and so got to where he was with a little bit of piratical enterprise).

    Our Constitution assumes we’ll look out for our own welfare, and that if anyone steps on our toes we’ll let them know not to do it again.

    It’s a lot less fun wielding lawyers, as opposed to sabers and blunderbusses. But like Twain observed about civilization — much slower than Comanches, but much more deadly in the long run — lawyers are effective tools of the pirate.

    Woe be to those who haven’t figured this out. Why do you think Milton Friedman wore that eyepatch?

  12. #12 Brownian
    June 15, 2007

    Gremlin, you just earned a molly nomination for coining (or at least using) the term ‘free-bootery.’

    Why does the author keep using the word ‘piratical’ in such a non-informative way (other than the fact that it’s a fun word)?

    Are piratical checks and balances just checks and balances performed by pirates, or is there something distinctively pirate-y about them? How about piratical law and order?

    I guess I’ve got my afternoon reading cut–er, cutlassed out for me.

  13. #13 CalGeorge
    June 15, 2007

    This paper investigates the internal governance institutions of violent criminal enterprise by examining the law, economics, and organization of pirates.

    Is it a paper about the Bush administration?

  14. #14 Graculus
    June 15, 2007

    boarding churches and looting them of their wealth probably isn’t a viable strategy to give us a unifying profit motive

    Why not?

  15. #15 sailor
    June 15, 2007

    Pirates were some of the first egalitarian democrats. They all signed ships papers that gave them rights and responsibilities. They could call a vote and change the captain anytime they were not actually fighting, and the captain only got twice the share of a regular crewmember. The smart one retired rich and became respectable members of society. It was a hell of a lot better than being at the bottom of the scale in the navy.

  16. #16 Jenbug
    June 15, 2007

    Actually, pirates also invented the concept of insurance as it’s known today, albeit in a very crude format. Men who were maimed were compensated for their injury in a scale system: loss of your right arm (lefties were SOL apparently) netted you 600 pieces of 8, your left arm 400, right leg 300, left leg 200 or something along those lines. I could have the exact amounts off but they did go in that descending order, favoring right over left and on down to the fiddly bits: eyes, fingers, toes, tongues and such.

    Also, it’s a hard case to make comparing pirate economic tactics when you can’t leave a competing market all alone on a desert island with a single shot.

  17. #17 dave
    June 15, 2007

    Keep to the code!

  18. #18 sailor
    June 15, 2007

    Oh yes and there were no color barriers. Same pay same work whatever your race.

  19. #19 blackbeard
    June 15, 2007

    …I can’t be motivated to read economics–no offense, economists, but I think the economics part of my brain got left behind…

    This could explain why you’re in favor of government run health care…

  20. #20 Brownian
    June 15, 2007

    This could explain why you’re in favor of government run health care…

    No, I think the evidence nicely explains why someone might take that view.

  21. #21 Troublesome Frog
    June 15, 2007

    When I was an econ major, one of the professors offered a special topics class she titled “The Economics of Sin” which was all about how making a good or service illegal or stigmatizing it changes the way the market for it works. Lots of interesting examples. It certainly provides a different perspective on things like the “war” on drugs.

  22. #22 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 15, 2007

    How is it that when national governance isn’t effective, organized crime such as pirating or mafia steps in? Maybe there is something in those sayings that there is only a difference in labeling. (Or framing, as it is known here.)

    Although I do confess that a viking lifestyle does have some appeal…

    Perhaps you are dreaming about raping virgins again.

    Hmm, boarding churches may get you access to more of these, at least nominal ones. Not the young boys though, seems they are often introduced to the finer points of religion.

  23. #23 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 15, 2007

    How is it that when national governance isn’t effective, organized crime such as pirating or mafia steps in? Maybe there is something in those sayings that there is only a difference in labeling. (Or framing, as it is known here.)

    Although I do confess that a viking lifestyle does have some appeal…

    Perhaps you are dreaming about raping virgins again.

    Hmm, boarding churches may get you access to more of these, at least nominal ones. Not the young boys though, seems they are often introduced to the finer points of religion.

  24. #24 Buffybot
    June 15, 2007

    Look to modern Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs such as the Hells Angels MC for many of the same lessons. In my former life as an organised crime intelligence analyst, I often thought that the police, or economists, could learn a lot from the way OMCGs operated.

  25. #25 Nomen Nescio
    June 15, 2007

    somewhere out there, i’ve seen somebody sell a tee shirt posing as an advertisement for “Crazy Einar’s Seagoing Concern — We’re not savage Viking raiders, we’re experts in maritime property transfer”.

  26. #26 Jaycubed
    June 15, 2007

    Just don’t become a pirate because you want to combat global warming like those deluded FSM Worshippers, the Pastafarians.

    Their “scientific evidence” in the link between the increase in global warming and the decrease in the number of pirates is easily disproven by the fact that piracy is rapidly increasing (in Somalia, Indonesia, Phillipines, etc.); yet global warming continues to increase, not decrease as their theory demands.

    http://www.venganza.org/about/open-letter/

    http://www.news24.com/News24/Africa/News/0,,2-11-1447_1834905,00.html

    http://www.asiaquarterly.com/content/view/30/

    http://www.cargolaw.com/presentations_pirates.html

    http://www.imo.org/Newsroom/mainframe.asp?topic_id=67&doc_id=1060

  27. #27 Wasps
    June 15, 2007

    No, I think the evidence nicely explains why someone might take that [government health-care] view.

    Oh yeah, evidence. I get you now!

  28. #28 VWXYNot?
    June 15, 2007

    Have you read Freakonomics? Nothing about pirates, but the chapter on the economics of drug dealers was really interesting – to me at least, and I was an economics virgin too. I thought the section correlating popular names with socioeconomic outcomes went on for too long though.

  29. #29 BillCinSD
    June 15, 2007

    I thought free-bootery was a new name for a booty call.

    I think PZ likes the Viking way because of how they treated Lindisfarne (monastery not the Irish musical group)

  30. #30 Shell Goddamnit
    June 15, 2007

    Yeah, like pirates are all the same all over. A Brit privateer with offical letters was a different animal from a polyglot, heathen crew of Barbary pirates. Which was also different from the European freebooters in the Caribbean. Can’t imagine they really had enough in common to make drawing conclusions about piracy in general a viable proposition doncha know.

    I do buy one aspect of the analogy between the one percenters and pirates, also true of highwaymen: people without a lot of familiarity with them tend(ed) to idealize them. My own experience with the one percent leads me to believe that their one overriding trait is their extreme unpredictability. I’m bettin the same is true of pirates, thus makin me doubt the whole “freebootery as democratic socialism” thing.

    But yeah…I’d still like to be a more piratical kind of person. Economics, however, seems to be quite overrun with pirates already. Dunno why we need more.

  31. #31 Dahan
    June 15, 2007

    Well, what about a sports team named after us? Think Pitsburgh Pirates or Minnesota Vikings. How about the Virulent Atheists…or…something like that. OK, needs some work.

  32. #32 grasshopper
    June 15, 2007

    ‘Pieces of eight. Pieces of eight.’
    “Where are me buccaneers?”. “Under your buccan hat, cap’n”.
    ‘The decks were awash with seamen.’
    ‘Columbus circumcised the world with a 40-foot cutter.’
    Spanish seamen come by the galleon.
    Be careful where you place your feet on the poop deck.

    Sorry, God made me do it.

  33. #33 David Marjanovi?
    June 15, 2007

    Gremlin, you just earned a molly nomination for coining (or at least using) the term ‘free-bootery.’

    Ah, is that new? I thought I had finally found the word for translating German Freibeuterei. What do you say instead? Privateering?

    Wasps, citing rand.org is no different from citing Answers in Genesis. Take a short look outside the US of A, and then come back, with evidence.

  34. #34 David Marjanovi?
    June 15, 2007

    Gremlin, you just earned a molly nomination for coining (or at least using) the term ‘free-bootery.’

    Ah, is that new? I thought I had finally found the word for translating German Freibeuterei. What do you say instead? Privateering?

    Wasps, citing rand.org is no different from citing Answers in Genesis. Take a short look outside the US of A, and then come back, with evidence.

  35. #35 Cable
    June 15, 2007

    The whole discussion involving some sense of order and control, the insurance, the articles signed by willing participants and egalitarianism regarding race & gender really all pertain to the Buccaneers or Brethren of the coast. The term pirate applies to any seagoing robber.

  36. #36 Wasps
    June 15, 2007

    Wasps, citing rand.org is no different from citing Answers in Genesis. Take a short look outside the US of A, and then come back, with evidence.

    The irony here is that you’re probably American.

    I, despite my non-Americianicity, look at methodology and criticise that. Not the source.

    But anyway, how many could there be? Not enough really.

  37. #37 David Marjanovi?
    June 15, 2007

    The irony here is that you’re probably American.

    Austrian. Currently living in France. Not been to the USA for longer than six days (for a congress).

    (Funny what the world has come to: two Europeans accusing each other of being Americans. Makes one pause.)

    Thanks for the links, I’ll have a look at them over the weekend, including the one from rand.org. Just so much tonight: how would you avoid having lots of people end up with either no or almost no health insurance?

  38. #38 David Marjanovi?
    June 15, 2007

    The irony here is that you’re probably American.

    Austrian. Currently living in France. Not been to the USA for longer than six days (for a congress).

    (Funny what the world has come to: two Europeans accusing each other of being Americans. Makes one pause.)

    Thanks for the links, I’ll have a look at them over the weekend, including the one from rand.org. Just so much tonight: how would you avoid having lots of people end up with either no or almost no health insurance?

  39. #39 Hexatron
    June 15, 2007

    Wasps studies do not discuss government-run or non-government-run health care. They find that poor sick people have better health with free health care. Free health care makes little difference for non-poor or non-sick people.

    I believe this is a decidedly un-gasp-worthy conclusion.

  40. #40 M
    June 15, 2007

    So, we’ve had voodoo economics and pirate economics…
    How long can it be until ninja economics arrives on the scene? Me, I’m betting on the pirate economics, but it should be a wonderful fight to see.

  41. #41 Stogoe
    June 15, 2007

    Yeah, Fuck the Poor. I deserve more entitlements than them because I’m not poor.[/snark]

    I actually thought before I browsed over there that rand.org was tied into Ayn Rand and her wacky yet unworkable hypotheses. Still not completely sure.

  42. #42 Buffybot
    June 15, 2007

    “My own experience with the one percent leads me to believe that their one overriding trait is their extreme unpredictability. I’m bettin the same is true of pirates, thus makin me doubt the whole “freebootery as democratic socialism” thing.”

    Too true. The point with both 1%ers and pirates is that the democracy and brotherhood are an illusion. It’s all about greedy and vicious individuals operating under the umbrella of a group with emblems (winged death’s head for the Angels, Jolly Roger for the pirates) designed to be intimidating. My experience with gangs is that double-crossing, back-stabbing and homicide-wise they’re more at risk from their own chapter-mates than from rival gangs, and I’m willing to bet that the same was true of pirates.

    I second the Freakonomics recommendation – the drug dealing economics chapter was bang on.

  43. #43 Graculus
    June 15, 2007

    I actually thought before I browsed over there that rand.org was tied into Ayn Rand and her wacky yet unworkable hypotheses. Still not completely sure.

    Actually, if you read it with an eye on the prize, on most points it supports government single-payer health care.

  44. #44 Hank Fox
    June 15, 2007

    Monty Python’s pirate-accountants: The Crimson Permanent Assurance

    part 1:

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=KX61PUZ3xkI

    part 2:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iakR7sB0skw&NR=1

  45. #45 Callandor
    June 16, 2007

    Speaking of economics, there’s a pretty interesting piece on Edge by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman about the rise of atheism and the fall of organized religion. They argue that long term trends in religious affiliation are due to economic and other factors. In other words, with universal society features like schooling, health care, and without economic disparity religiosity plummets every time.

  46. #46 Wasps
    June 16, 2007

    Ahem, I apologise for the lateness of this post. I blame work. Anyhow, for some reason Pharyngula doesn’t let me make long comments, and addressing the comments satisfactorily took a hefty 5kb. I’ll host the page there for a while as I don’t use the site for anything else (though having to write this much for the internet has made me seriously consider blogging.)

    Austrian. Currently living in France. Not been to the USA for longer than six days (for a congress).

    (Funny what the world has come to: two Europeans accusing each other of being Americans. Makes one pause.)

    Well, almost. I’m a New Zealander. (Never been to the US myself, don’t have any plans to for the foreseeable future) NZ only just lags behind the US in economic freedom, but we have a fairly extensive public healthcare system here (alongside a private one, which might actually be handy for Hexatron’s unreasonable request) that I can’t bring myself to love. Especially with the recent controversy of people being dropped from waiting lists for seemingly no other reason than to let Labour claim that throwing more money at the problem is helping. I’m sure France’s situation is different, as your system commands a remarkable amount of respect.

    But yeah, I reflect and it depresses me.

    Thanks for the links, I’ll have a look at them over the weekend, including the one from rand.org.

    No problems, I ask only that you give them your honest consideration.

  47. #47 Keith Douglas
    June 16, 2007

    At McGill when I was an undergraduate, there was a very popular course (which I never took) called The Underground Economy. I wonder if it discussed pirates …

  48. #48 Martin R
    June 17, 2007

    You wouldn’t have liked the Vikings. Very devout people, sacrificed evilutionists to Odin for battle luck etc.

  49. #49 anon
    June 17, 2007

    #38:

    Rand Corporation is basically an arms-length research unit of Pentagon. They do some public policy work on the side but the bulk of their business is national security related. Funding is primarily corporate-establishment in origin.

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