Did pirates run their business in an economically sound fashion?


This paper investigates the economics of infamous pirate practices. Two closely related economic theories—the theory of signaling and the theory of reputation building—explain these practices. First, I examine the pirate flag, “Jolly Roger,” which pirates used to signal their identity as unconstrained outlaws, enabling them to take prizes without costly conflict. Second, I consider how pirates combined heinous torture, public displays of “madness,” and published advertisement of their fiendishness to establish a reputation that prevented costly captive behaviors. Pirates’ infamous practices reduced their criminal enterprise’s costs and increased its revenues, enhancing the profitability of life “on the account.”

Source: “Pirational Choice: The Economics of Infamous Pirate Practices” from Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization

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