12 February 2007
Privateering

It would be difficult to describe Tim Evans’s Putney Debate held on Friday as being particlularly well attended.

It had an audience of one.

Me.

Which was a shame because it was a really good talk. The subject (for the main part) was privateering.  This was practice of allowing private concerns (privateers) to become licensed pirates and do your warfare for you.  They would be allowed to capture the merchant vessels of any hostile power around and keep whatever loot they found.  They played a large part in the fighting of Britain’s wars up to and including Napoleonic times.

Tim took no small pleasure in outlining the havoc privateers wrought on enemy shipping as well as how efficient and technologically advanced they were.  While the Royal Navy had to press men into serving, the privateers wanted the best men available and paid them accordingly, ensuring that they were well looked after while on board.

He also admired they way they avoided destroying property.  Whereas a typical navy has no incentive to preserve property intact, a privateer has every incentive.  No loot, no return.

Privateering disappeared as the era of the big state emerged.  But according to Tim that era might be about to end.  Already the SAS is suffering severe problems with retention as its soldiers get lured away to the private sector on three times the salary.  Who knows, maybe in future President Clinton will be issuing Letters of Marque entitling a new generation of privateers to deprive Iran or Saudi Arabia of the odd oil field or two.

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  1. Patrick

    I’m sorry I missed this.  I just forgot that there was anything happening of Tim’s that night.  Plus, I do find Putney rather a struggle to get to these days.

    Thank goodness for blogs.  Give a good talk to no one and you can instantly rescue it by doing a good blog posting to someone.

    I think I may now do something on Samizdata about this.  But, I promise nothing.

    Nice coincidence.  The word I now have to type in to make this comment work is: “military”!

    Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 12 February 2007 at 05:56pm

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