Encyclopedia of Law and Economics

2019 Edition
| Editors: Alain Marciano, Giovanni Battista Ramello

Piracy, Old Maritime

  • Peter T. LeesonEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-7753-2_71


Eighteenth-century pirates were profit-maximizing criminals. Their infamous practices reflect strategies pirates adopted to bolster their bottom line. The “pirate code” was a system of constitutional democracy that sea dogs developed to govern themselves privately in the absence of government. The “Jolly Roger” – pirates’ black flag of skull and bones – was a signaling device that sea dogs used to facilitate the seizure of prizes without costly conflict. Pirates used heinous torture to develop a reputation that incentivized captives to acquiesce to their demands. And pirates “pressed” – or pretended to conscript – willing recruits to reduce sailors’ legal cost of joining their crews.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA