Washington, Feb 22: From real-life pirates like Blackbeard or Henry Morgan to fictional ones like Captain Hook or Captian Jack Sparrow, pirates have always been known as true scallywags who sailed the ocean blue. But a new daring article has given an interesting and informative insight into the pirate world, by finding that these criminal organizations were highly organized and managed to establish a remarkably stable form of self-government.
In the study entitled, “An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization,” Peter Leeson looked at the fascinating “golden age” of piracy during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and suggested that pirate organizations had well-established political structure.
While economists have long been fascinated with the financial organization of criminal enterprises, the impact of their political structure has long been overlooked.
Piracy was a capital crime, so both the costs and benefits were quite high. But, as Leeson shows, pirates never lacked for “Brethren in Iniquity.”
He showed that piracy exploded along with trade to the far-flung colonies. A captain of a trading ship was the representative of land-based merchants, and thus wielded complete authority, which was often abused, over the crew.
Although a captain of a pirate ship exerted absolute authority in battle the pirates, in the words of one of their own, “constituted other Officers besides the Captain; so very industrious were they to avoid putting too much power into the hands of one Man.”
Foremost among these officers was the quartermaster, who oversaw the distribution of provisions, division of booty, and general order aboard the ship.
He demonstrated that pirates entered into an agreement called the chasse-partie that dictated the division of booty. But they also drew up articles for a voyage, most of which were institutionalized as the “Custom of the Coast” or the “Jamaica Discipline,” that covered all aspects of government, and life aboard a ship “for the better Conservation of their Society, and doing Justice to one another.”
Records of these articles still exist, and Leeson helpfully reproduces one within his article. Even a court that stood in judgment gave the pirates the backhanded compliment that they were “wickedly united, articled together.”
Leeson notes that modern piracy is a different affair. Mainly land-based and short term in its commitments, it no longer requires the same sort of organization.
The article is published in the Journal of Political Economy. (ANI)