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The Pirate Organization: Lessons from the Fringes of Capitalism

By HEC Paris Professor Rodolphe Durand and Richard Ivey School of Business Professor Jean-Philippe Vergne.

Adrian KinnersleyIn what is a section of literature often filled by overly involved and detailed descriptions of management technique, The Pirate Organization is a welcome addition, and puts forward an intriguing theory on capitalist innovation.

Before even opening the book you see this is not the average business title. It is aesthetically striking, with its skull and crossbones on the design cover to the perforated edges on each page, appearing better suited to the fiction section rather than business. Its content is equally compelling; in a nutshell it puts forward the idea that pirates, rather than being viewed as anarchists out to destroy capitalism, have in fact been the key drivers of innovation throughout history.

The book offers a brief history of piracy and its relationship with the economy. It moves pirates away from the popular image of swashbuckling, peg-legged sea marauders, and focuses on their involvement in spreading capitalism along the trade routes towards the Indies, creating a new era of mass communication via the pioneers of pirate radio, going right up to the era of Kim Dotcom and MegaUpload today. The two French Professors, one of HEC Paris business school and the other of the Richard Ivey School of Business, elegantly position today’s pirates as the hackers and programme writers that have revolutionised the way we access information on the internet.

They go on to say that despite their appearance and the acts they engage in having changed, pirates still play the same role within in society today. In the past they’d discover new treasures and wealth, and then be subject to the state interfering and taking this new wealth away from them. The situation is the same today, new avenues of revenue have been discovered on the internet via file-sharing, yet the state, backed by the large corporations whose interests they protect, move in and shut down these new pockets of opportunity. According to the authors, the question remains the same: if the net is a territory, what should its boundaries be, and who should define them? Pirates resist the state from answering these questions on behalf of society,and the two professors argue that this is healthy for the economy, and in fact enhances the democracy of capitalism.

The book thoughtfully and intelligently creates a common ground between the hook-handed pirates of the past to the bedroom hackers employed by the Pentagon today. It cites numerous instances where piracy has revolutionised industry and alludes to the pirate tendencies of Apple and Steve Jobs, who infamously flew a pirate flag above the company’s headquarters in California.

However what it does most successfully is raise poignant philosophical questions as to the nature of power and who should have the right to control the masses of data that the internet produces. It asks whether our image of the free market in which consumers are the real holders of power is a correct one. The state still influences what level of access we have to information to, and pirates, as the authors claim, are the ones who break down these barriers to data and in doing so re-balance power within society.

As you may expect from a book written by two academics there is considerable economic theory within the chapters. However this solidifies their claims and is articulated in such a way that is accessible to all. By reassessing the economic importance of pirates and tracking their evolution through time, the book presents us with important economic and philosophical questions that are hard to find elsewhere in such a compact format.

Review provided by:
Adrian Kinnersley is founding partner and the managing director of Twenty Recruitment Group, one of the world’s fastest expanding independent recruitment businesses. With offices in London and New York the firm specializes in senior appointments within finance, financial services, and technology.