An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization

Posted: 2 May 2007

See all articles by Peter T. Leeson

Peter T. Leeson

George Mason University - Department of Economics

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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.

Suggested Citation

Leeson, Peter T., An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization. Available at SSRN:

Peter T. Leeson (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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