Prudence_ Passion and Persuasion in Moby Dick by ert554898



Cecil E. Bohanon

  Prudence, Passion and Persuasion in Moby Dick

McCloskey (1998) has argued that pru-                This paper argues that Herman Mel-
dence is a central and necessary virtue in       ville’s 1851 classic Moby Dick can be
a capitalist economy. However she points         seen as a referendum between prudence
out that prudence does not and cannot            and passion: between mercantile gains
explain all economic behavior. Prudence          and heroic questing, and the tragic tri-
is in contrast with another virtue: solidari-    umph of the latter over the former. The
ty with fellow humans. Solidarity is ne-         irony is that passion defeats prudence on
gotiated by rhetoric and discourse, and is       prudence’s own terms. Captain Ahab
central to the operation of all human so-        takes the role of passion, first-mate Star-
cieties including and perhaps especially         buck is the spokesperson for prudence.
ones that are capitalistic. Prudence is at       The ship’s crew is the body that judges
odds with solidarity, while simultaneous-        the two competing claims, revealing their
ly requiring solidarity for its own opera-       preferences through their actions.
tion. The prisoners’ dilemma, for exam-
ple, is not overcome by simple prudential           The key question of the story is why
self-regarding calculation (indeed, that is      do the members of the crew go along
why it is a problem!) but by solidarity          with Ahab’s self-destructive quest?
with embedded social practices and cus-          Whaling was a profit-seeking business.1
toms. But it is this solidarity that allows      Ship owners structured incentives to en-
for greater degrees of prudential activity.      sure that their interests coincided with
In the same vein, solidarity hardly stands       those of the crew. The crew had a share
alone. Although “dull” prudence can              in the ship’s cargo (whale oil) and, as
scarcely be seen as a universal motivation       most of the ship’s costs were fixed costs,
for human action, prudence is a useful           additional whales were pure profit for all
and necessary means for attaining noble          those involved. Yet the whole story of
and heroic ends. Yet prudence is often in        Moby Dick is one of intentionally aban-
conflict with reckless courage, unrequited       doning profit-seeking to indulge Captain
generosity, unwavering commitment and            Ahab’s grudge against the great white
a variety of other more passionate virtues.      whale. It is important to note that this is
                                                 accomplished because Ahab is able to
  Cecil E. Bohanon is Professor of Econo-        persuade the crew to follow his quest, his
  mics, Ball State University (Muncie, India-    passionate cause of ridding the ocean of
  na). A preliminary version of this paper was
  presented at the annual meeting of the         1
  Association of Private Enterprise Education
                                                  See Ellickson (1989), Craig and Knobner
  (APEE) in Cancún, Mexico, April 8–10,          (1992), and Craig and Fearn (1993) for de-
  2007. (The author would like to thank Lee      tailed outlining of the rules, customs, practic-
  Craig for helpful comments. Any errors         es and arrangements that are consistent with
  remain the author’s.)                          profit maximization in the whaling industry
                                                 in Melville’s time.
                                                                              Laissez-Faire 23

the monster Moby Dick to the exclusion        importance pertaining to the respective
of profit and ultimately at the cost of the   duties of the ship’s company.” Expecting
crew’s lives.                                 a 1/275th lay, and hoping for a 1/200th,
                                              Ishmael is offered a 1/777th lay by the
   The plan of this paper is a bit uncon-     more penurious owner, Bildad. Peleg
ventional. I will follow the basic outline    objects (“thou dost not want to swindle
of Melville’s story illustrating my thesis    this young Man”), and eventually the
using direct quotes from Melville’s text. I   three, Bildad, Peleg and Ishmael, agree
will also offer a number of other insights.   on a 1/300th lay.2
All the quoted material is referenced by
chapter. Longer passages are in italics.          Ishmael’s companion Queequeg was
                                              an experienced whale harpooner. His lay
                                              negotiation, described in Chapter 20, is a
   The Whaling Ship: Ishmael and              classic illustration of how the desire for
   Queequeg sign on for the Pequod            prudential gain trumps passion-based
                                              provincial prejudices.
The protagonist in Melville’s Moby Dick
is a late twenty-something adventurer-            When Queequeg, a South Sea Islan-
writer named Ishmael, who makes an            ders, attempts to sign on for the Pequod
accidental acquaintance and ultimately a      Captain Peleg asserts: “no cannibals on
close friendship with the South Sea Islan-    board (unless) ... (thou) art at present in
der Queequeg in New Bedford, Massa-           communion with a Christian church.”
chusetts. The two agree to sign onto a        Ishmael insists that Queequeg is a mem-
whaling ship. In Chapter 16, Ishmael          ber of the “First Congregation of the
describes signing on to the whaling ship      whole Worshiping World ....” This flip-
Pequod. The chapter reveals a number of       pant reply assuages Peleg, who goes on to
details about the financing of whaling        question Queequeg: “Did you ever strike
operations. A whaling voyage typically        a fish?” The text then describes:
lasted for up to three years. The supplies
necessary to support the crew were pro-           Without saying a word, Queequeg, in his
vided by the ship’s owners, who in this           wild sort of way, jumped upon the bul-
story are two retired Quaker whalers              warks, from thence into the bows of one
named Captain Bildad and Captain Peleg.           of the whale boats hanging on the side;
These two are the “largest owners of the          and then bracing his left knee, and posing
                                                  his harpoon, cried out in some such way
vessel,” although other shares were held
                                                  as this ‘Cap’ain, you see him small drop
by “a crowd of old annuitants, widows,            tar on water dere? You see him? Well,
fatherless children, and charity wards.”          spose him one whale eye, well, den!’ and
                                                  taking sharp aim at it, he darted the iron
    Ishmael reveals the structure of incen-       right over old Bildad’s broad-brim, clean
tives for the crew: “I was already aware          across the ship’s deck and struck the glis-
that in the whaling business they paid no         tening tar-spot out of sight. ‘Now’ said
wages, but all hands, including the cap-
tain received certain shares of the profits   2
                                               Perhaps Bildad and Peleg were engaging in
called lays.” Ishmael goes on to explain      a “good cop, bad cop” strategy. Bildad gave
that the lays reflected an ex-ante estimate   an absurdly low lay, allowing Peleg’s lay to
of the sailors marginal product: “… these     seem generous, although less than what Ish-
lays were proportionate to the degree of      mael anticipated.
Laissez-Faire 24

 Queequeg, quietly hauling in the line,               Ahab Reveals his Mission
 ‘spos-ee him whale-e eye, why, dad
 whale dead.’ ‘Quick, Bildad’ said Peleg       Ishmael and Queequeg set sail with the
 ‘… get the ship’s papers. We must have        rest of the crew. For several days Captain
 Hedgehog there … we’ll give ye the nine-
                                               Ahab remains reclusive. In Chapter 36
 tieth lay, and that’s more than ever was
 given a harpooner yet out of Nantucket.
                                               Ahab reveals to the crew his quest for
                                               Moby Dick. He begins by addressing the
   During Ishmael’s negotiations in            crew, asking a number of “seemingly
Chapter 16 he inquired as to the ship’s        purposeless questions” to the crew about
captain. The owner Peleg reveals that          whaling: “What do you do when ye see a
Ahab is “a queer man,” but that                whale, men” Ahab asks; to whit the crew
                                               replies “sing out for him!” ... And once on
 I know Ahab well; I’ve sailed with him as     the rowboat in pursuit of the whale “...
 mate years ago; and know what he is—a         what tune is it that ye pull to men?” – “A
 good man— … I know too that ever since        dead whale or a stove boat!” (Note that
 he lost his leg last voyage by that ac-       stove in this context means broken, or a
 cursed whale, he’s been a kind of moody       boat that is crushed inward.) The crew
 … it is better to sail with a moody good      “marveled” at “how excited” they be-
 captain than a laughing bad one.              came at this line of questioning by Ahab.

Although aware of Ahab’s misfortune,               Ahab then holds up a Spanish ounce
the ship owners have no indication that        of gold, a $16 gold piece, and nails it on
Ahab will behave in an inappropriate           the mainmast, saying “Whosoever of ye
way.                                           raises me a white head whale ... shall
                                               have this gold ounce.” The crew cheers.
   Chapter 26 introduces the first-mate        The three “pagan” harpooners (Tashtego,
Starbuck, whose motives are made clear:        Daggoo and Queequeg) ask if it is the
                                               white whale known as Moby Dick. The
 Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in     first mate Starbuck asks if this is the
 him courage was not a sentiment; but a        whale that removed Ahab’s leg. Ahab
 thing simply useful to him … courage          enthusiastically replies in the affirmative
 was one of the great staple outfits of the
                                               to both queries and then announces: “Aye,
 ship, like her beef and her bread, and not
 foolishly to be wasted.                       aye and I’ll chase him around Good
                                               Hope, and round the Horn, and round the
    Starbuck evinced that “I will have no      Norway Maelstrom, and round perdi-
man in my boat who is not afraid of            tion’s flames before I give him up.” He
whales,” and reveals: “I am here in this       then goes on to say: “And this is what ye
critical ocean to kill whales for my living,   have shipped for, Men! [emphasis added]
and not to be killed by them for theirs …”     To chase that white whale on both sides
                                               of land, and over all sides of earth, till he
    Starbuck is the voice of prudence. He      spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What
is in the voyage for gain, not for romance,    say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it
adventure or pleasure.                         now? I think ye do look brave.”3

                                               “Splice hands” means agree to it.
                                                                          Laissez-Faire 25

   Note that Ahab putatively leaves it             He asserts to Starbuck that the crew
open to the men to agree or not to the        is in harmony with his purpose: “Look!
unconventional mission statement for the      See yonder Turkish cheeks of spotted
journey. The crew replies:                    tawn … the pagan leopards … that live;
                                              and seek, and give no reasons for the
 “Aye! aye!” shouted the harpooners and       torrid life they feel! The crew, man, the
 seamen, running closer to the excited old    crew! Are they not one and all with Ahab,
 man: “A sharp eye for the white whale, a     in this matter of the whale?” Under his
 sharp lance for Moby Dick!”                  breath Ahab ends up concluding that
                                              “Starbuck now is mine; cannot oppose me
To which Ahab replies in a “half sob and      now, without rebellion.”
half shout”: “God bless ye, God bless ye
men,” and proceeds to order up grog for          Ahab continues to ritually drink grog
the whole crew.                               and cross lances and swords with the men
                                              of the crew to seal the pact: “Drink ye
    Ahab immediately notes that Starbuck      harpooners! Drink and swear, ye men
seems unenthusiastic: “But why the long       that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow—
face about, Mr. Starbuck? Wilt thou not       Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if
chase the white whale? Art thou not game      we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!”
for Moby Dick?” Starbuck replies in front
of the entire crew:                               Later that evening (in Chapter 38)
                                              Starbuck reflects: “My soul is more than
 “I am game for his crooked jaws and the      matched; she’s overmanned; and by a
 jaws of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it
 fairly comes in the way of the business we
                                              madman … he drilled deep down, and
 follow, but I came here to hunt whales,      blasted all my reason out of me! I think I
 not my commander’s vengeance. How            see his impious end; but feel I must help
 many barrels will thy vengeance yield        him to it.” Not only has Ahab been able
 thee even if thou gettest it, Captain        to persuade the crew to his purpose, Pru-
 Ahab? It will not fetch thee much in our     dence itself (in the person of Starbuck) is
 Nantucket market.”                           swayed by his passion. Yet Chapter 46
                                              reveals that Passion uses the tools of Pru-
    The debate has now begun: Ahab and        dence to attain its ends.
Starbuck engage in a continual dialogue
about the propriety of the mission. Some
of these debates are in front of the crew           Ahab’s Prudential Strategy
and some are private.
                                              Chapter 46 of Moby Dick is titled Sur-
    Ahab continues at this juncture to re-    mises, and reveal Ahab’s thinking after
ply, in front of the crew, giving the quest   his initial interaction with the crew and
a larger and more metaphysical purpose,       Starbuck. “Starbuck’s coerced will were
although couched in commercial lan-           Ahab’s, so long as Ahab kept his magnet
guage, by ascribing to Moby Dick “an          at Starbuck’s brain; still he knew for all
inscrutable malice”: “That inscrutable        this the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred
thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the      his captain’s quest, and could he, would
white whale agent, or be the white whale      joyfully disintegrate himself from it, or
principal, I will wreak that hate upon        even frustrate it.” He goes on to note that:
him.”                                         “Starbuck would ever be apt to fall into
Laissez-Faire 26

open relapse of rebellion against his cap-      to the general whale hunt that favorably
tain’s leadership, unless some ordinary,        impressed the crew of the Pequod. In
prudential, circumstantial influences we-       Chapter 50, crew leader Mr. Stubb re-
re brought to bear upon him.” Ahab also         marks: “… if I had but one leg you would
calculated the future moods of the crew:        not catch me in a [whaling] boat … Oh
                                                he’s a wonderful old man.” Ahab earned
 … yet all sailors of all sorts are more or     the respect and admiration of the crew,
 less capricious and unreliable … Grant-        building the bonds of solidarity that
 ing that the White Whale fully incites the     would be necessary to pursue his ultimate
 heart of this my savage crew, and playing      quest: the destruction of Moby Dick. In
 round their savageness breeds a certain        addition, the text describes in detail
 knight-errantism in them still, for the love
 of it they give chase to Moby Dick, they
                                                Ahab’s meticulous pouring over the
 must also have food for their more com-        whaling charts to engineer a rendezvous
 mon, daily appetites. For even the high        with Moby Dick. The tools of prudence,
 lifted and chivalric Crusaders of old          meticulous whaling information and tech-
 times were not content to traverse two         nology are harnessed for the ends of pas-
 thousand miles of land to fight for their      sion.4
 holy sepulcher, without committing bur-
 glaries, picking pockets and gaining oth-
 er pious perquisites along the way. Had        Ahab and Starbuck’s Conflict, and the
 they been strictly held to their one final              Crew’s Response
 and romantic object, too many would
 have turned from in disgust. I will not
 strip these men, thought Ahab, of all          The story continues and at a number of
 hopes of cash—aye cash.                        junctures the conflict between Ahab and
                                                Starbuck re-emerges. In Chapter 109,
    And finally Ahab recognizes his posi-       while off the coast of Japan, Starbuck
tion as captain cannot ensure the ob-           notes that the oil containers are leaking
edience of the crew. Although captains          and brings this to Ahab’s attention. Re-
did have clear authority over a ship,           pairing the leaks will delay and make less
“Ahab was now entirely conscious that …         certain Ahab’s anticipated encounter with
he had indirectly laid himself open to the      Moby Dick. Ahab refuses to allow “the
unanswerable charge of usurpation; and          Burton’s to be hoisted” to repair the leak.
with perfect impunity, both moral and           To which Starbuck replies: “What will the
legal, his crew if so disposed, and to that     owners say, Sir?” To which Ahab replies:
end competent, could refuse all further         “Let the owners stand on Nantucket
obedience to him, and even violently            beach and outyell the Typhoons. What
wrest from him the command.” Ahab               cares Ahab? Owners, owners? Thou art
went on to conclude: “For all these rea-        always prating to me, Starbuck, about
sons … [he] plainly saw that he still must      those miserly owners, as if the owners
in good degree continue true to the natu-       were my conscience. But look ye, the only
ral, nominal purpose of the Pequod’s            real owner of anything is its commander
voyage …”                                       … ” After additional dialogue with Star-
                                                buck over the matter,
    And so Ahab begins to court the ad-
miration and confidence of his crew as a
means of persuasion. Later chapters de-          See Evans (2003, pp. 21-22) for more on
scribe Ahab’s courage and commitment            this theme.
                                                                          Laissez-Faire 27

 Ahab seized a loaded musket from the             panic-stricken crew instantly ran to the
 rack (forming part of most South-Sea-            braces - though not a sail was left aloft.
 men’s cabin furniture), and pointing it          For the moment all the aghast mate's
 towards Starbuck, exclaimed: “There is           thoughts seemed theirs; they raised a half
 one God that is Lord over the earth, and         mutinous cry. But dashing the rattling
 one Captain that is lord over the Pequod.        lightning links to the deck, and snatching
 - On deck!”                                      the burning harpoon Ahab waved it like a
                                                  torch among them ….
Starbuck is appalled, and Ahab repents
his action, stating:                             The harpoon was engulfed with St. El-
                                                 mo’s fire—an electrical discharge that
 “Thou art but too good a fellow, Star-          engulfs parts of a ship during a heavy
 buck,” he said lowly to the mate; then          storm. Also called corposants, the
 raising his voice to the crew: “Furl the        “flames” give off an eerie glow and were
 t'gallant-sails and close-reef the top-         understandably considered a mystical
 sails, fore and aft; back the main-yard;        portent by sailors of the time.
 up Burtons, and break out in the main-
 hold.” It were perhaps vain to surmise           … swearing to transfix with it the first
 exactly why it was, that as respecting           sailor that but cast loose a rope's end.
 Starbuck, Ahab thus acted. It may have           Petrified by his aspect, and still more
 been a flash of honesty in him; or mere          shrinking from the fiery dart that he held,
 prudential policy [emphasis added]               the men fell back in dismay, and Ahab
 which, under the circumstance, impe-             again spoke: “All your oaths to hunt the
 riously forbade the slightest symptom of         White Whale are as binding as mine; and
 open disaffection, however transient, in         heart, soul, and body, lungs and life, old
 the important chief officer of his ship.         Ahab is bound. And that ye may know to
 However it was, his orders were ex-              what tune this heart beats; look ye here;
 ecuted; and the Burtons were hoisted.            thus I blow out the last fear!” And with
                                                  one blast of his breath he extinguished
Prudence has won a battle, but the con-           the flame.
flict continues.
                                                     So again, Ahab gains the hearts and
    In Chapter 119 the Pequod encounters         minds of the men through a dramatic dis-
a typhoon and the conflict between pru-          play that Starbuck is incapable of coun-
dence and passion is again apparent. If          tering.
the sails are repaired a course will be
taken out of the typhoon, which will lead           After the typhoon is negotiated pru-
to a path back to Nantucket, the preferred       dent Starbuck actually considers murder-
option of Starbuck. Not repairing the sails      ing Ahab. But he finds the thought re-
will lead to a path to Moby Dick, the pre-       pugnant. He then considers a more judi-
ferred option of Ahab. In the presence of        cious alternative:
the crew in the midst of the typhoon,
                                                  “But is there no other way? no lawful
 Starbuck grasped Ahab by the arm –               way? - Make him a prisoner to be taken
 “God, God is against thee, old man; for-         home? What! hope to wrest this old
 bear! t'is an ill voyage! ill begun, ill con-    man's living power from his own living
 tinued; let me square the yards, while we        hands? Only a fool would try it. Say he
 may, old man, and make a fair wind of it         were pinioned even; knotted all over with
 homewards, to go on a better voyage              ropes and hawsers; chained down to
 than this.” Overhearing Starbuck, the            ring-bolts on this cabin floor; he would
Laissez-Faire 28

 be more hideous than a caged tiger, then.       “… never, never wilt thou capture him,
 I could not endure the sight; could not         old man - In Jesus' name no more of this,
 possibly fly his howlings; all comfort,         that's worse than devil's madness. Two
 sleep itself, inestimable reason would          days chased; twice stove to splinters; thy
 leave me on the long intolerable voyage.        very leg once more snatched from under
 What, then, remains? The land is hun-           thee; thy evil shadow gone - all good an-
 dreds of leagues away, and locked Japan         gels mobbing thee with warnings: - what
 the nearest. I stand alone here upon an         more wouldst thou have? - Shall we keep
 open sea, with two oceans and a whole           chasing this murderous fish till he
 continent between me and law. - Aye,            swamps the last man? Shall we be
 aye, ’tis so.”                                  dragged by him to the bottom of the
Prudence doesn’t have the stomach to
confront passion.                               To which Ahab responds:

    The voyage continues as the Pequod           “Starbuck, of late I've felt strangely
searches for Moby Dick. The great white          moved to thee; ever since that hour we
whale is spotted and the ship enters into a      both saw - thou know'st what, in one
                                                 another's eyes. But in this matter of the
three day battle with the monster. All
                                                 whale, be the front of thy face to me as
along Starbuck is encouraging Ahab and
                                                 the palm of this hand - a lipless, unfea-
the crew to abandon the quest for Moby           tured blank. Ahab is for ever Ahab, man.
Dick, while dutifully participating in the       This whole act’s immutably decreed.
hunt. After the first day of the chase the       ’Twas rehearsed by thee and me a billion
morale of the crew is clearly with Captain       years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am
Ahab:                                            the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.
                                                 Look thou, underling! that thou obeyest
 Whatever pale fears and forebodings             mine. - Stand round me, men. Ye see an
 some of them might have felt before;            old man cut down to the stump …. So
 these were not only now kept out of sight       with Moby Dick - two days he's floated -
 through the growing awe of Ahab, but            to-morrow will be the third. Aye, men,
 they were broken up, and on all sides           he'll rise once more, - but only to spout
 routed, as timid prairie hares that scatter     his last! D’ye feel brave men, brave?”
 before the bounding bison. The hand of          “As fearless fire,” cried Stubb.
 Fate had snatched all their souls; and by
 the stirring perils of the previous day; the       At this point Starbuck’s pleadings
 rack of the past night’s suspense; the         seem exceptionally feeble. Ahab alludes
 fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless way in       to the quest being something beyond the
 which their wild craft went plunging to-       free will of the crew: they are pulled by
 wards its flying mark; by all these things,
                                                Fate; the act has been decreed a billion
 their hearts were bowled along. The wind
 that made great bellies of their sails, and
                                                years ago.
 rushed the vessel on by arms invisible as
 irresistible; this seemed the symbol of            Even on the third day, Starbuck con-
 that unseen agency which so enslaved           tinues to try to persuade: “Oh! Ahab,”
 them to the race. They were one man,           cried Starbuck, “not too late is it, even
 not thirty [emphasis added].                   now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby
                                                Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that
    On the second day of the chase Star-        madly seekest him!”
buck again implores Ahab in the presence
of the crew:                                       Yet it is in vain. The crew loses the
                                                                          Laissez-Faire 29

battle with the whale, the ship is swal-       in whaling and functionality of the lay
lowed up in the ocean and all perish, save     system, how the profit motive trumps
the narrator Ishmael.                          prejudice in the hiring of Queequeg are
                                               all good examples to the right audience.
    The story of Moby Dick suggests a
metaphor that distinguishes market and            However, other issues can be ad-
political processes. On land Ahab could        dressed by Moby Dick: about the viability
scarcely hope to persuade the owners of        of a liberal order based on reason and
the Pequod, or even a potential crew of        prudence. A number of points can be
sailors, to authorize his dastardly quest.     made:
Mobile financial capital constrained by
market-based prudence would never con-             First, Ahab does not coerce his crew
sent to risking life, limb and capital to      to the reckless task of chasing Moby
hunt down a monster. Indeed, we hear no        Dick; rather he inspires and cajoles them
words from Ahab on land.                       to that end. Second, Ahab uses the tools
                                               of prudence to promote his passion. Not
    Yet at sea, far from the view and con-     only does he peruse his maps in great
trol of the major owners of the Pequod, a      detail to ascertain the whereabouts of the
minority of owners (recall each crew           white whale, he meticulously calculates
member had a financial interest in the         and manipulates the moods and activities
ship’s cargo) are persuaded by the ranting     of his first mate and crew to persuade
of a demagogue.                                them to continue in the quest. Third, the
                                               voice of prudence, Starbuck, is unsuc-
    In the different, more fluid environ-      cessful in persuading the crew to follow
ment of the open sea, where both custom        his preferred course. For prudence to tri-
and law are adrift, passionate political       umph it needs a more passionate spokes-
persuasion readily trumps more pruden-         person than Starbuck!
tial market based rhetoric. Grounded
market processes are more stable and               The appeal of Melville’s story is that
rational than the more fluid political         it makes reckless audacity an engaging
processes. Land and sea are metaphors          and plausible option. If one asked even
for these two distinct institutions of hu-     the most reckless sailor if he would sign
man interaction.                               on for the task of ridding the ocean of a
                                               monster for the sheer thrill of the chase,
                                               with a greatly enhanced risk of sure
               A Challenge                     death, and with no prospects for material
                                               gain, his answer would surely be no. But
Why is this view of Moby Dick of inter-        in the passion of the moment a charismat-
est to economic educators? What does           ic leader may well be able to convince a
this story tell us about the viability of a    crew of sailors to engage in such action.
free market economy in the 21st century?
                                                  Advocates of free markets may make
    First, Melville’s Moby Dick, like most     a rational and convincing case that
great literature, contains passages that       wealth-creating policies are desirable
reflect economic principles. These are         because they are individually prudent.
worthy of cataloging and can be pedagog-       Yet voters may be easily swayed, per-
ically useful. In particular, the incentives   suaded and cajoled to more romantic and
Laissez-Faire 30

passionate ends that are in conflict with                  REFERENCES
their own prudential interests. The exten-
sive literature in public choice on rational
ignorance and expressive voting certainly      Craig, Lee A. and Charles R. Knoeber.
confirms that group decision making is            “Manager Shareholding, the Market
more likely swayed by less than pruden-           for Managers, and the End-Period
tial ends compared to individual decision         Problem: Evidence from the U.S.
making. Melville’s Moby Dick can be               Whaling Industry,” Journal of Law,
seen as a literary parable that explains          Economics, and Organization, 8 (Oc-
why the prudential is systematically              tober 1992): 607-27.
trumped by the passionate in a democrat-
ic setting.                                    Craig, Lee A. and Robert M. Fearn.
                                                  “Wage Discrimination and Occupa-
                                                  tional Crowding in a Competitive In-
                                                  dustry: Evidence from the American
                                                  Whaling Industry,” Journal of Eco-
                                                  nomic History, 53 (March 1993): 123-

                                               Ellickson, Robert C. “A Hypothesis of
                                                   Wealth-Maximizing Norms: Evidence
                                                   from the Whaling Industry,” Journal
                                                   of Law, Economics and Organization,
                                                   5 (Spring 1989): 83-97.

                                               Evans, K. L. Whale. Minneapolis: Uni-
                                                  versity of Minnesota Press, 2003.

                                               McCloskey, Dierdre N. “Bourgeois Vir-
                                                 tue and the History of P and S,” Jour-
                                                 nal of Economic History, 58 (June
                                                 1998): 297-317.

                                                                       Laissez-Faire 31

To top