- By Carolyn O'HaraCarolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.
There’s no doubt anymore about the influence of Freakonomics on the dismal science. Authors Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner made economics seem clever again by pointing out the everyday connections and correlations you never thought to investigate. It’s a feat that Noam Scheiber over at The New Republic recently lamented, arguing that the success of Freakonomics will lead future generations of economists to eschew the hard, time-consuming questions of our day for the cutesy, best-selling studies that, in the end, only serve to disappoint kids who are begging for that backyard swimming pool (In the book, Levitt and Dubner argue that backyard pools are actually more dangerous than guns).
I, for one, sort of love the slightly wacky economics papers that are coming out in the wake of Freakonomics, if only because one day we were bound to get something on the economics of pirate organization.
Peter Leeson of West Virginia University examined centuries-old texts to discern why pirates behaved the way they do, and surprise, surprise: Not only were pirates quite rational beings, but they put in place lasting democratic checks and balances long before England or the United States established their democracies. They even had constitutions to enforce the law and make the terms of “pirate compensation” explicit. Another fascinating little tidbit: Pirate ships were incredibly racially diverse. In the early 18th century, black crew members on pirate ships constituted, on average, nearly 39 percent. Leeson will publish the finale to this three-part look at pirate economics this fall. I just wonder what he’d say about our modern-day sea dogs.