European Journal of Law and Economics

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 365–379 | Cite as

Pirates, prisoners, and preliterates: anarchic context and the private enforcement of law

  • Peter T. Leeson


This paper investigates institutions that develop to strengthen or expand the discipline of continuous dealings as a mechanism for privately enforcing law. I consider three such institutions in three different anarchic contexts: that of Caribbean pirates; that of drug-dealing gangs and prison inmates; and that of preliterate tribesmen. These cases highlight several ways in which different anarchic contexts give rise to different private law enforcement institutions. The varieties of private law enforcement institutions that emerge in different anarchic contexts reflect the particular problem situations that persons who rely on those institutions confront in their attempts to protect property rights without government.


Anarchy Self-governance Discipline of continuous dealings Pirates Prison gangs Preliterate societies 

JEL Classification

K40 K42 K49 Z13 



I thank the Editor and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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