Search the Site

Freakonomics meets Pirates of the Caribbean

That’s how the Las Vegas Weekly describes economist Pete Leeson‘s book The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates.
The Invisible Hook is an excellent book by one of the most creative young economists around, Pete Leeson, based off some of his academic papers, including this one that was published in Journal of Political Economy when I was the editor. I have to admit that as an editor I was skeptical when I received a manuscript on pirates from an obscure economist, but the combination of careful research and really interesting insights quickly won me over to Leeson’s work.
More recently, I was lucky enough to have Leeson, who is a professor at George Mason University, spend the fall quarter visiting the Becker Center at the University of Chicago, during which time I got to hear about his new work on “ordeals.” Here is the beginning of the abstract of this new paper:

For 400 years the most sophisticated persons in Europe decided difficult criminal cases by asking the defendant to thrust his arm into a cauldron of boiling water and fish out a ring. If his arm was unharmed, he was exonerated. If not, he was convicted. Alternatively, a priest dunked the defendant in a pool. Sinking proved his innocence; floating proved his guilt. People called these trials ordeals. No one alive today believes ordeals were a good way to decide defendants’ guilt. But maybe they should.