, Volume 139, Issue 3-4, pp 443-459
Date: 04 Feb 2009

The calculus of piratical consent: the myth of the myth of social contract

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Is a genuine social contract mythical? I argue that pirates created genuine social contracts that established a system of constitutional democracy based on the same decision-making calculus and with the same effects that Buchanan and Tullock’s contractarian theory of government describes in The Calculus of Consent. Pirates’ constitutional democracy is the “holy grail” of social contract theory. It demonstrates that the contractarian basis of constitutional democracy is more than a mere analytic device or hypothetical explanation of how such a government could emerge. In pirates’ case, Buchanan and Tullock’s social contract theory describes how constitutional democracy actually did emerge.

This paper contains material from the author’s book, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates (Princeton University Press, 2009). I thank the Editors and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Pete Boettke, Chris Coyne, Dan D’Amico, and Ed Stringham also provided useful suggestions. The financial support of the Kaplan Fund and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University is also gratefully acknowledged.