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In a society where trust is in short supply and democracy weak, the Mafia sells protection, a guarantee of safe conduct for parties to commercial transactions. Drawing on the confessions of eight Mafiosi, Diego Gambetta develops an elegant analysis of the economic and political role of the Sicilian Mafia.


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In a society where trust is in short supply and democracy weak, the Mafia sells protection, a guarantee of safe conduct for parties to commercial transactions. Drawing on the confessions of eight Mafiosi, Diego Gambetta develops an elegant analysis of the economic and political role of the Sicilian Mafia.

30 review for The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ari

    A look at the history, organization and economics of the mafia -- particularly in its Sicilian variety, but with some comparisons with the American families. As the title hints, the author's thesis is that the mafia, fundamentally, is in the business of dispute resolution and private protection. As the author takes pains to show, this protection isn't simply "protection" in the sense of extortion -- you do [often] get the genuine article. Sometimes this has socially positive cast to it -- the A look at the history, organization and economics of the mafia -- particularly in its Sicilian variety, but with some comparisons with the American families. As the title hints, the author's thesis is that the mafia, fundamentally, is in the business of dispute resolution and private protection. As the author takes pains to show, this protection isn't simply "protection" in the sense of extortion -- you do [often] get the genuine article. Sometimes this has socially positive cast to it -- the mafia really do suppress many kinds of crime in Sicily. More often, though, the protection the mafia offer is protection from competition. For example, the Palermo fish market -- one of the major fish markets in a major maritime region -- for a long time had only a handful of middlemen. Potential new entrants were advised that entering the business would be hazardous to their health. Similarly, if you want to do a construction project in mafia territory, you not only make direct payments to them, but must use their approved suppliers and subcontractors. The mafia-protected agents are sometimes family members, often not. The author displays a somewhat excessive degree of essentialization -- he acknowledges that the mafia have a major role in, e.g., drug smuggling but assures the reader that this is merely a side business, or an internalized customer, not the core of what they do. I'm not sure this distinction is meaningful, but I'm mostly persuaded of his core claim that protection, forced cartelization and so forth is central to the mafia in a way that, say, bootlegging is not. A question the author raises, but doesn't answer, is how the mafia compares to a government, a political machine, or a feudal aristocracy -- all of which also offer protection, which often claim an exclusive territory, and sometimes use coercion to enforce their will. A few other things that caught my eye -- the Sicilian mafia is a phenomenon of _western_ Sicily and always has been. The author exhibits maps of "mafia activity" from the 1870s, which are largely similar to maps of the same, from a century later. Palermo is a mafia town, Syracuse isn't. The author's explanation is that in the 1860s and 70s, there was a great deal of tumult in Sicily as the pre-unification aristocracy was dis-established, a great deal of church and customary property was put onto the market, and cash-crop agriculture took off. The result in the west was that the new farmers and businesses started hiring toughs who coalesced into the mafia. In eastern Sicily, the existing elites were a bit better established and were able to hang on and exclude mafia-like societies. The word "mafia" is etymologically obscure. It seems that the collective noun and organization name is a back-formation from mafioso, which was in circulation meaning "swagger", with overtones of fearlessness, pride, and enterprising. There was a very popular 1863 play "I mafiusi di la Vicaria" about a prison gang with mafia-like characteristics -- and this seems to have popularized the term throughout Italy. The real mafia often borrow from fictional depictions -- the author reports a real mafia wedding in Sicily where the organizers decided that the sound track from The Godfather was the ideal music. Likewise, a horse's head in somebody's bed was a literary invention that was later deployed by real mafiosi. However, similar gestures go back well before Puzzo's depiction; e.g. finding a dead fish left in a locked car, having one's pets killed, etc. The mafia don't have good ways to describe themselves. The name "mafia" is distinctly a term by and for outsiders. As the literary depictions often have it, the insiders talk about "cosa nostra" -- "this thing of ours." It's not a proper noun -- it's a sign that there is a vagueness, an unavoidable and involuntary vagueness, about exactly what it is that the mafia are doing. Sometimes they say "la stessa cosa" -- "the same thing." The Italian judiciary has historically been relatively soft on the mafia. More than elsewhere, Italian jurisprudence and judicial culture doesn't expect the law of the government to be the only rules -- there is an acknowledged role for other regimes. This is partly due to the presence of the church, with its own autonomous courts and rules. It is also due to the late unification of Italy and the historically weak central government. As a result, respectable Italian judges who were not at all mafioso have been found to make sympathetic remarks about how mafia killings are just a sort of free-enterprise private death penalty for violating internal norms. As the author puts it, it's not that the Italian state was unable to subdue the mafia, it's that it never consistently tried.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Sometimes simple questions lead to surprisingly insightful results. In this book our researcher asks what is the Sicilian mafia. Its subtitle sums his answer: the business of private protection. The more sensational aspects of mafia operations are ignored; instead the shadows of the criminal underworld are plumbed for evidence of corporate process affecting target markets. Criminal operators are no less bound by reason, no less affected by the social contract (or lack of one) than anyone else; Sometimes simple questions lead to surprisingly insightful results. In this book our researcher asks what is the Sicilian mafia. Its subtitle sums his answer: the business of private protection. The more sensational aspects of mafia operations are ignored; instead the shadows of the criminal underworld are plumbed for evidence of corporate process affecting target markets. Criminal operators are no less bound by reason, no less affected by the social contract (or lack of one) than anyone else; they are not exempt from economic or social theory. Early on in the introduction the author identifies a "peculiar mixture of cynicism and Catholicism" which to him represents "the quintessence of Italy's political structure" as follows: since no individual or institution can identify the public good (only God can know it), the role of the state cannot be to defend and promote something unknowable. The only achievable "public good"" emanates from a ceaseless process of mediation between the various organized interests in society. Crippled by this ideology, the Church and State have allowed the mafia a minor legitimacy, a sort of parallel law to the more overt rules and legalisms of religion and democratic institutions. Despite his clinical detachment from the bloody exchange which mortars this curious institution the author never affords the mafia an undeserved legitimacy, never succumbs to moral relativism or pious resignation. Neither should any of you.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jerrod

    The Sicilian Mafia provides a theoretical framework for studying the mafia (specifically noting that the good that the mafia produces is protection) and a reasonable amount of evidence to back up the theory. This book is littered with the economics of industrial organization from the role of asymmetric information in mafia contracting to why some vertical integration of the drug was required but for the most part the organization of the drug trade was relatively diffuse. The discussion and The Sicilian Mafia provides a theoretical framework for studying the mafia (specifically noting that the good that the mafia produces is protection) and a reasonable amount of evidence to back up the theory. This book is littered with the economics of industrial organization from the role of asymmetric information in mafia contracting to why some vertical integration of the drug was required but for the most part the organization of the drug trade was relatively diffuse. The discussion and evidence relating to reputation and transferability of it is useful in understanding issues of branding. Gambetta evidence comes from personal interviews and police and court reports, as well as secondary source material. Favorite parts of the book: the chapters on ordered and disordered markets were wonderful chapters on the organization of specific markets, such as the fruit and vegetable markets in Palermo and the organization of theft territories. Least favorite part: Gambetta can often get wrapped up too much in source material, and often the material is merely provided without cleanly relating it back to the theoretical framework. Those who liked this would also enjoy the Social Order of the Underworld.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Davis

    Boorrrring, I only reached page 180 (out of 250) before returning the book to the library. Just couldn't finish it. Written like a college thesis, this book is great if you need to research the inner workings of organized crime. Either being a mobster is extremely dull or this author has a talent for casting things in a mundane light.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Walt

    A rather dry and academic approach to Mafia business. Gambetta avoids much of the sensational writings that characterize so many other Mafia books.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Hargis

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris Bickford

  8. 4 out of 5

    Philip

  9. 4 out of 5

    Zolboo Nemekhbayar

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carl Russo

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo Hernandez

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dave Blair

  13. 5 out of 5

    Luis

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrew H Levin

  15. 4 out of 5

    Steve Shulman-Laniel

  16. 4 out of 5

    BoloCereal

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dave Wilcox

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sara Rraklli

  19. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Stemwedel

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joe Davis

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maria Menduni

    ,

  22. 4 out of 5

    Arjun

  23. 4 out of 5

    ne

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tony

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gabriela

  27. 4 out of 5

    Gennady

  28. 5 out of 5

    Renato Amaral Amboss

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sal Gnvs

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mcoyotts

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