A Pirate's Life for Me A Pirate's Life for Me

A Pirate's Life for Me

by Nikhil Swaminathan

December 7, 2008
Pirates are back in a big way thanks to the recent news from the Somali coast. Scientific American probes the zeitgeist with pirate expert Peter Leeson, author of the book The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. The big revelation: Piracy is a means of employment, like any other job, and its practitioners are not scallywags, but rather keen, "rational money-maximizers."While Leesen is generally unimpressed with today's slapdash breed of pirate, he notes that old school plunderers were expert marketers, establishing a brand identity that immediately strikes at the hearts of ocean-fearing men. Says Leesen: ... if we think of piracy as a business, as I think we should, their reputation was just as important as it is for any other business. So in order to institutionalize the brand name that they wanted to cultivate, what they needed to do was first work diligently in creating it. The way that they did that was through ruthlessly adhering to this idea of torturing people if they didn't comply with them once they had boarded their ship. We normally think about pirates as sort of blood-lusting, that they want to slash somebody to pieces. [It's probably more likely that] a pirate, just like a normal person, would probably rather not have killed someone, but pirates knew that if that person resisted them and they didn't do something about it, their reputation and thus their brand name would be impaired. So you can imagine a pirate rather reluctantly engaging in this behavior as a way of preserving that reputation.It was definitely an effective campagin. My timbers shiver just thinking about them.(Photo from Flickr user Nick Humphries)
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A Pirate's Life for Me