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Pirates and Workplace Democracy

Pirates and Workplace Democracy

Peter Leeson is an economist who also happens to be fascinated by pirates and he manages to combine the two in “The Invisible Hook” beautifully.  The most surprising thing to me is how these pirates practiced what we would recognize today as advanced democracy.

According to Leeson,

Pirates’ system of constitutional democracy predated constitutional democracy in France, Spain, the United States, and arguably even England. (pp 20)

And they did this “nearly 100 hundred years before [James Madison] suggested it.”

Workplace Democracy

By present-day standards, a pirate ship would be considered a model of workplace democracy.  Pirate crews were based on “constitutions” that spelled out the rights and responsibility of its crew.  These constitutions exhibited many, if not all, of WorldBlu’s 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy,

  1. Purpose and Vision.  A pirate crew came together for one single purpose: profit.  This, according to Leeson, drove every other aspect of pirate crew organization and governance.
  2. Transparency.  As mentioned, pirate crews were bound by a constitution that spelled out the rights and responsibility of its crew.
  3. Dialogue + Listening.  Crew members had a say in the running of the ship (except in battle, when the Captain reigned supreme).  They could at any point vote out the Captain or Quartermaster and elect another.  This kept the conversation going.
  4. Fairness + Dignity.  Every crew member had an equal vote.  Pirate constitutions also “created what economists call ‘common knowledge’ among crew members
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