Via FP Passport, one of those very rare (sets of) academic papers whose very existence is funny, and which is also very interesting. I give you two papers on the rationality of pirates (both pdfs, both by Peter Leeson of George Mason University): An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization, and Pirational Choice: The Economics of Infamous Pirate Practices. Personally, I found the history more interesting than the rational choice theory, though passages like this (from An-arrgh-chy) are marvelous in their way:
"Modeling this problem is straightforward. Consider a pirate ship of complete but imperfect information with a captain and two "factions" of ordinary pirates that together comprise the ship’s crew (...)"
An-arrgh-chy is the most interesting of the two. Here's the abstract:
"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."
It is really interesting that pirates hit on democratic government with written constitutions and a separation of powers around seventy years before Montesquieu, and a hundred years before the US. Definitely worth a read, especially if you like seventeenth-century prose. The second article (Pirationality) was less interesting to me, though it did have some pretty spectacular descriptions of pirate gruesomeness, which were, according to Leeson, designed to create a reputation for complete barbarity, thereby minimizing resistance:
"In one case, for example, the French buccaneer, L'Ollonais, could not get several stubborn Spanish prisoners to reveal the location of some valuables. In response to this obstinance he “drew his cutlass, and with it cut open the breast of one of those poor Spaniards, and pulling out his heart with his sacrilegious hands, began to bite and gnaw it with his teeth like a ravenous dog” (quoted in Konstam 2002: 75). (...)
Other forms of cruelty the pirates invented to punish hiding or destroying loot included cutting open a man'’s stomach, nailing one end of his intestines to the mast, and then whipping him to make him dance to his death."
Do not show this article to Charles Graner.