The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates

The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates

The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates

The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates


Pack your cutlass and blunderbuss--it's time to go a-pirating! The Invisible Hook takes readers inside the wily world of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century pirates. With swashbuckling irreverence and devilish wit, Peter Leeson uncovers the hidden economics behind pirates' notorious, entertaining, and sometimes downright shocking behavior. Why did pirates fly flags of Skull & Bones? Why did they create a "pirate code"? Were pirates really ferocious madmen? And what made them so successful? The Invisible Hook uses economics to examine these and other infamous aspects of piracy. Leeson argues that the pirate customs we know and love resulted from pirates responding rationally to prevailing economic conditions in the pursuit of profits.

The Invisible Hook looks at legendary pirate captains like Blackbeard, Black Bart Roberts, and Calico Jack Rackam, and shows how pirates' search for plunder led them to pioneer remarkable and forward-thinking practices. Pirates understood the advantages of constitutional democracy--a model they adopted more than fifty years before the United States did so. Pirates also initiated an early system of workers' compensation, regulated drinking and smoking, and in some cases practiced racial tolerance and equality. Leeson contends that pirates exemplified the virtues of vice--their self-seeking interests generated socially desirable effects and their greedy criminality secured social order. Pirates proved that anarchy could be organized.

Revealing the democratic and economic forces propelling history's most colorful criminals, The Invisible Hook establishes pirates' trailblazing relevance to the contemporary world.


Charybdis herself must have spat them into the sea. They committed “a Crime so odious and horrid in all its Circumstances, that those who have treated on that Subject have been at a loss for Words and Terms to stamp a sufficient Ignominy upon it.” Their contemporaries called them “Sea-monsters,” “Hell-Hounds,” and “Robbers, Opposers and Violators of all Laws, Humane and Divine.” Some believed they were “Devils incarnate.” Others suspected they were “Children of the Wicked One” himself. “Danger lurked in their very Smiles.”

For decades they terrorized the briny deep, inspiring fear in the world's most powerful governments. The law branded them hostes humani generis—“a sort of People who may be truly called Enemies to Mankind”—and accused them of aiming to “Subvert and Extinguish the Natural and Civil Rights” of humanity. They “declared War against all the World” and waged it in earnest. Motley, murderous, and seemingly maniacal, their mystique is matched only by our fascination with their fantastic way of life. “These Men, whom we term, and not without Reason, the Scandal of human Nature, who were abandoned to all Vice, and lived by Rapine” left a mark on the world that remains nearly three centuries after they left it. They are the pirates, history's most notorious criminals, and this is the story of the hidden force that propelled them—the invisible hook.

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