Where do “rule of law” people intersect most frequently with outlaws? At the bank, of course.
Other than crimes of personal and political passion, the point of most illegal activities is to make money. And by and large, all the world’s money, legally earned or not, flows through the world’s connected and centralized banking system. Your random stick-up, your off-the-books oil deal, your ransomware and identity theft — the proceeds from all these crimes must and do wind up in the same international financial trough.
Bankers know this and so do heads of state and their intelligence chiefs, but for a variety of reasons they share in a global consensus that taking on the mafias, forcing criminal money out of the world banking system, would be more trouble than it’s worth. One likely reason is how much doing banking business indiscriminately is worth. But a better reason is the cost in trouble and blood of trying to eliminate a well-functioning Mafia. As they say in Mafia movies and in NYC, “Fuggeddabouddit!”
So, we live in a world of many, many well-functioning Mafias, criminal organizations tolerated, in part, because they usually stay within self-imposed limits. They recruit from exclusive networks based on ethnicity, clan or family, and they operate on a definable “home turf,” which is usually in a less developed part of the world. So far, so good; somebody else’s problem.
Until a criminal organization starts making the kind of money you eventually have to take to the bank. For most mafias that involves profits from three kinds of illegal trafficking: of people, drugs and guns. Moving them across international borders requires a collaborative network of Mafias and “legitimate” businesspeople and oblivious governments and safe banking haven to stash the loot.
Thus, the problem grows and moves closer to us.
The ubiquity of mafias, the numerous nodes of a worldwide underworld, and their increasingly numerous interventions into separatist politics and wars are subjects addressed in our guest Danilo Mandic’s new book Gangsters and Other Statesmen. All these mafias may share some basic characteristics, he writes, but they are not all alike. Some subscribe to separatist political movements; others shun them, because they prefer making money to making war. But once wars descend, Mafias are great at making them into money-making propositions.
Danilo Mandić is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Harvard University, where he teaches “Introduction to Political Sociology,” “Refugees in Global Perspective,” “War, Revolution and Organized Crime,” and “Qualitative Methods in Sociology.” He researches forced migration, social movements, nationalism, war and organized crime. In 2015-6, he led a research team to study Syrian refugees on the Balkan Route, investigating refugee camps, migrant trafficking, and the effects of anti-smuggling measures on refugees. He co-edited a volume (with Tamara Pavasović Trošt) on youth in Southeast Europe.