The Mafia And The Economy

In his book Into The Heart Of The Mafia – A Journey Through The Italian South, David Lane talks of what you expect from organized crime: the murders and the extortions and the trafficking, etc. But he also makes another point. When you have an active Mafia, the prosperity of the region falls. And the Mafia is not good for the environment (trees, flowers, etc.) This is what he says:
“The world has failed states and rogue nations — Zimbabwe, Somalia, North Korea and others where the usual rules of civil and democratic society are missing. Italy has Calabria, the long toe of the Italian boot where the law seems to be that which the ‘Ndrangheta lays down rather than that set in Rome.

“A black hole, as some people describe it, or a region without a future, as Italy’s daily business newspaper called Calabria in June 2006 after the body of an elderly farmer was found near the beach at Briatico, a small town about sixty miles north of Reggio Calabria. The farmer had been lured into a trap late at night and shot; the murderers had loaded his body into the car that he had driven to the encounter and taken the car to where they set it on fire, leaving a smouldering wreck that the police would find, charred human remains inside. The victim had been active in an anti-racket association set up by local businessmen and his murder was one more example of the ‘Ndrangheta’s strength and the weakness of Italy’s institutions in the region.”

“How can an economy thrive when organised crime is so strong, I wonder, and of course it does not thrive. Calabria’s economy languishes, as it always has. In terms of gross domestic product per capita, a common measure of economic wellbeing, the region is poorer than any other in the country. People in Calabria produce less than two-thirds of the wealth produced by the average Italian and less than half of what comes from people in the country’s most productive region. Calabria’s five provinces sit economically at the bottom of the one hundred and three provinces into which Italy is divided.”
As far as the environment: “Southern Italy has some monstrous examples of industrial wreckage, cathedrals in the desert as they are often called”.

This environmental impact may not be fault of the Mafia – it may be the fault of the state-owned industries that make plants that don’t succeed. On the other hand, in the case of one plant that he mentions: “The ‘Ndrangheta’s clans were probably the only winners; they certainly profited from the building of the plant, a project that was worth about three hundred billion lire, a huge sum at the time, but that is long ago and long forgotten. And forgotten also are the lost geological report that advised against the site because the ground was unstable and the suspicious death in a road accident of the head of Reggio Calabria’s civil engineering department who stubbornly insisted that the report’s findings should be accepted and another site found for the plant.”

There is also the question of the disappearing toxic wastes from the various factories that David Lane mentions.

And the private sector runs into big obstacles:

“Pippo Callipo’s firm is large and well established, but it faces the difficulties that all firms face in Calabria. With its offices and factory near Pizzo, about thirty-five miles up the coast, it is a thriving, private-sector business in a part of southern Italy where thriving, private-sector businesses are rare. Callipo runs the high-quality tunny-canning firm that his great-grandfather established in 1913. His sparkling modern factory on a winding country road a few miles outside the town processes around thirty tonnes of tunny every day, employs over two hundred workers and is a big cog in the local economy whose loss would be an enormous blow for the area around Pizzo itself and way beyond, in the region as a whole.”

“However, such things do not matter to mafia bosses. Like most businessmen in Calabria, Callipo has been a target for the ‘Ndrangheta, his factory hit in drive-by shootings. Armed guards on contract from a private security agency approved by the police go on duty when the factory’s working day ends and the canning lines stop. That gives some protection to the factory but Callipo’s own safety is another matter. ‘When I leave my office late in the evening I am always worried about some kind of attack until I reach the main road. The police are never around,’ he told me.”

“After he was elected chairman of Calabria’s businessmen’s association in 2001 he learnt even more about how business in the region is under siege. Four words sum up Calabria’s businessmen: isolated, ignored, powerless and scared. The situation was so bad that in June 2005 Callipo wrote an open letter to Italy’s president, then Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. He wanted action in Calabria and hoped that his letter would get it. The Mafia, he said, held the region hostage and deprived people there of important constitutional rights like those of running a business and living in a normal society.”

We in the USA, have several Mafias: the Russian Mafia, The Italian Mafias, and so forth, and no doubt beneath the surface of ordinary life, these do shape our economic and other realities to some extent.


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