Thursday, February 28, 2008

An-Aaargh-chical Constitutions

Peter Leeson of George Mason University has published a fascinating article about the political economy of eighteenth century pirate fleets.

As I read "An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Politics of Pirate Organization," I learned that these "abominable societies" were far ahead of sovereign states in awarding veterans benefits for those wounded in battle. In a pre-Henri Dunant period when European armies were still leaving their war-wounded to die on the battlefield, pirates were compensated according to rules clearly specified in constitutions.

Leeson cites the memoirs of 17th century bucanneer Alexander Exquemelin:

"The wounded... would be compensated as follows: for the loss of a right arm, 600 pieces of eight or six slaves; for a left arm, 500 pieces of eight or five slaves; a left leg 400 or four slaves; an eye, 100 or one slave, and the same award for loss of a finger. If a man lost the use of an arm, he would get as much as if it had been cut off, and a severe internal injury which meant the victims had to have a pipe inserted in his body would receive 500 pieces of eight or five slaves in recompense."
Nothing, of course, compared to the extensive veterans disability system now characteristic of governments such as ours. US troops get not one-time lump sums but monthly payments, albeit according to not which limb was chopped or blown up but rather some calculation of what "percent" disabled they are. In addition, according to, our wounded warriors can look forward to the Army's new "Comprehensive Care Plan," as of March 1 this year, which will "focus on healing the whole person - body, mind, heart and spirit - and not just physical well-being."

The most interesting difference I saw in these kinds of benefits systems is the democratic charater of the pirate constitutions, vs. state armies. Pirate bands would agree to the specific rules in advance of setting sail, and according to Leeson they stuck by them hence.

Also, pirates could overthrow their captains/quartermasters if they didn't abide by the constitution. Conscripts or enlistees in state militaries sign up to pre-existing rules without the ability to negotiate. And they have little power short of exit when the government fails to come through, as with the debacle at Walter Reed, or acts so as to suggest gross negligence. For more on the latter, see Piglipstick.

Not to glorify armed groups, state or non-state, which specialize in theft, torture and murder of innocents.

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