Moira Kloster's Reviews > Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates

Invisible Hook by Peter T. Leeson
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's review
Jun 21, 2010

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Read in June, 2010

It's a very readable introduction to economics and "rational choice theory". Who'd have thought Blackbeard was simply doing the best cost-benefit analysis on how to pay his motley crew? As an account of pirate practices, it's interesting and objective. However, Leeson seems to want this to show that if even pirates make rational choices, then rational choice theory is all we need to understand people. That's not so obvious, though he does try to account for why the recent Somali-based pirates are different from their 18th-century predecessors. Rational choice theory assumes all men are selfish. Economics seized on this assumption back in the late 18th century and haven't let go of it yet, even though other intellectual disciplines have long since modified their extremism. Men might be selfish, but are women? For that matter, how selfish are men from non-capitalist societies? Which comes first, the selfishness, or the lack of social support in a capitalist system which throws men back onto their own resources? Leeson's argument doesn't get far enough into looking at the considerable difference between past and present pirates to show whether rational choice applies to our present more nuanced understanding of cultures and of "human" nature. It stops at the level of intellectual exercise.
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