To Live Outside the Law You Must Be Honest


Peter Leeson, an economist who has written about both the legal system that emerged in stateless Somalia and the legal system that emerged among old-time pirates, now writes about the legal system that has emerged among—of course!—Somali pirates:

southparkpiratesOver the last year or so Somali piracy has flourished into a full-blown economic activity in some of Somalia's coastal communities. Somalia's modern sea bandits pirate full time; and while they spend little time together on their ships, they spend significant time together in their pirate communities on land. A new, albeit different, pirate society is being born.

Pirates thus face a governance problem they haven't faced since, well, the 18th century. And they're rising to the occasion. Somali sea dogs have a code of conduct that includes rules for dealing with inter-pirate theft, conflict, and theft from their victims.

According to one Somali pirate, for example, "If any one of us shoots and kills another, he will automatically be executed and his body thrown to the sharks." Further, this pirate added, "If a pirate injures another, he is immediately discharged and the network is instructed to isolate him. If one aims a gun at another, he loses five percent of his share of the ransom."

According to another Somali sea dog, "Anybody who is caught engaging in robbery on the ship [the pirates overtake] will be punished and banished for weeks. Anyone shooting a hostage will immediately be shot." "I was once caught taking a wallet from a hostage. I had to give it back and then 25,000 dollars were removed from my share of the ransom."

The Somali pirates' "laws" are enforced by a "mobile tribunal," a kind of traveling pirate court, that oversees relations between the significant number of Somali "pirate cells"—separate but coordinated bands of sea scoundrels that dot Somalia's coastline.

Read the whole thing here.