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The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates Paperback – July 25, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Economist Leeson leads readers though a surprisingly entertaining crash course in economics in this study of high seas piracy at the turn of the 18th century. Far from being the bloodthirsty fiends portrayed in popular culture, pirates created a harmonious social order; through the application of rational choice theory, the author explains how a common pursuit of individual self-interest led pirates to create self-regulating, democratic societies aboard their ships, complete with checks and balances, more than half a century before the American and French revolutions brought such models to state-level governance. Understanding the profit motive that guided pirates' actions reveals why pirates so cruelly tortured the crews of ships that resisted boarding, yet treated those who surrendered readily with the utmost respect. Both practices worked to minimize costs to the pirate crew by discouraging resistance that could lead to loss of life and limb for pirates and damage to either the pirates' ship or the cargo aboard. Illustrated with salty tales of pirates both famous and infamous, the book rarely bogs down even when explaining intricate economic concepts, making it a great introduction to both pirate history and economic theory. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
One of San Francisco Chronicle's 100 Best Books for 2009
Winner of the 2009 Best International Nonfiction Book, Week
Winner of the 2009 Gold Medal Book of the Year Award in Business and Economics, ForeWord Reviews
"A brisk, clever new book, The Invisible Hook, by Peter T. Leeson, an economist who claims to have owned a pirate skull ring as a child and to have had supply-and-demand curves tattooed on his right biceps when he was seventeen, offers a different approach. Rather than directly challenging pirates' leftist credentials, Leeson says that their apparent espousal of liberty, equality, and fraternity derived not from idealism but from a desire for profit."--Caleb Crain, New Yorker
"[S]urprising and engaging . . . . [Leeson's] seminars must be wildly popular."--Stephen Sedley, London Review of Books
"Economist Leeson leads readers though a surprisingly entertaining crash course in economics in this study of high seas piracy at the turn of the 18th century. . . . Illustrated with salty tales of pirates both famous and infamous, the book rarely bogs down even when explaining intricate economic concepts, making it a great introduction to both pirate history and economic theory."--Publishers Weekly
"Mr. Leeson's book represents a serious attempt to use the tools of economics to make sense of the institutions of piracy. The book is another example of economic imperialism, the use of economics to make sense of real world phenomena that are outside the standard realm of economic science. It addresses an important force that did, and does, impact world trade. But as the skull and crossbones on its spine suggests, the book is also just fun. . . . [T]he book manages to be entertaining and informative. It is a fun read and provides parents with something to teach their children while looking for pirate treasure left long ago at the beach."--Edward Glaeser, Economix blog, NYTimes.com
"The Invisible Hook is an excellent book by one of the most creative young economists around."--Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics blog
"Peter T. Leeson has done his part to dispel the pirate myths by using economic theory to explain pirate behavior and organization in his exemplary new book. . . . Mr. Leeson has produced a fresh perspective on an old topic. . . . The Invisible Hook is quick-paced but thought-provoking. Based on this work, the reader should look forward to more books by the author."--Claude Berube, Washington Times
"Piracy has not been Leeson's only obsession. The other has been economics. When he was 17 years old he had supply and demand curves tattooed on his right bicep . . . now the professor has brought his two enthusiasms together in a wonderful (and wonderfully titled) new book. The Invisible Hook is his study of the hidden economics of piracy."--Daniel Finkelstein, Times
"Jauntily characterising the typical pirate ship as akin to 'a Fortune 500 company', [Leeson] reorients pirates as precursors of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school of economics."--Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times
"One of the finest introductory courses in economics since Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. . . . The Invisible Hook is a good addition to the genre of popular economics: a fun and enlightening read, and rock solid in its scholarly bona fides."--Michael Shermer, Nature
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THE INVISIBLE HOOK provides a very interesting look into the life of pirates, examining the role of economics in everything from self-governance to torture. While maintaining a conversational, often amusing tone, Leeson does a fabulous job of blending the (potentially dry) foundations of economics with the fascinating life and customs of pirates. Definitely would recommend to pirate lovers, and/or reluctant economics students!
Oh, you haven't read GURPS: Swashbucklers?
Well never mind that. What's important to know is that, despite their reputation as blood-thirsty cut-throat savages, life aboard a pirate ship in the Carribean was a damn sight more free and civilized than serving aboard a navy ship or merchantman in the same era.
Pirates operated their ships according to "articles of agreement," deliberated by and signed off by each member of the crew. These "constitutions" governed all aspects of shipboard life and how major decisions concerning the enterprise would be conducted. Pirate captains were elected by their crews and could be removed at any time for any reason. What's more, authority was not centered in the position of captain as it was in the navy or merchant service, but rather power was divided between several officials, probably the most important being the quarter-master (who divided the loot!)
Why did these pirate crews exhibit such modern tendencies toward democracy, separation of powers and equality - many years before actual governments did?
Leeson answers these questions by arguing that there are essentially economic reasons for these behaviours. Pirates were not any more enlightened than anyone else of their time. They were handicapped by all the same human flaws and foibles that everyone else was. What was different was their situation which allowed for different economic calculations.
For example, Leeson argues that the decentralized, egalitarian administration of pirate vessels was due to the "agency problem" in economics. Essentially, because merchant vessels were owned by an "absentee landlord" who was not on site, the ship owner had to rely on the services of an agent who could be relied on to be loyal, as opposed to diverse agents (crew) who would rob him blind. This required the loyal agent to be granted dictatorial power to keep the others in line.
Pirate crews, on the other hand, owned their own vessels. Thus, one pirate stealing would be stealing from his fellow shipmates. Therefore, Leeson argues, a decentralized administration could be much more effective as, essentially the pirates would police each other. This decentralization then further increased "pirate happiness" by reducing the ability of an authority figure to prey on his crew.
The Invisible Hook is a fun an interesting read. Both for its delving into a history not widely known beyond Jack Sparrow films, and for providing an interesting economic explanation for the behaviours of the participants which can be scaled up to provide lessons for society as a whole.
(On a side note, what's shown here is that even very libertarian criminals "against all flags" have to fly one... and underraise a government, limited or not. Doctrinaire libertarians of the unarchist persuasion, take note.)
Definitely give it an Aaaaaaaaa+
Most recent customer reviews
Informative without being dry.
A fun take on the worlds of then with lessons still valuable today