‘When Bob Dylan sang, "To live outside the law you must be honest," he probably wasn’t thinking of seventeenth-century pirate captains. Nonetheless, his dictum seems to apply to them. While pirates were certainly cruel and violent criminals, pirate ships were hardly the floating tyrannies of popular imagination. As a fascinating new paper (pdf) by Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason University, and "The Republic of Pirates," a new book by Colin Woodard, make clear, pirate ships limited the power of captains and guaranteed crew members a say in the ship’s affairs. The surprising thing is that, even with this untraditional power structure, pirates were, in Leeson’s words, among "the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history."
‘Leeson is fascinated by pirates because they flourished outside the state
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