Whitaker's Reviews > McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime

McMafia by Misha Glenny
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Sep 19, 11

bookshelves: geopolitics, economics, 2011-read
Read from August 31 to September 12, 2011

Misha Glenny is a journalist. That tells you what you need to know about the approach that he takes to the topic of globalised organised crime in this book. It's large reportorial, with minimal analysis and no overriding thesis. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view. The advantage of this approach is that it delivers a punchy narrative; the disadvantage is that the subject remains an unwieldy morass. (♪ (view spoiler))

The unwieldiness is inherent in his subject-matter: organised crime in all its protean forms across the globe from America to Zimbabwe. This is not the romance of Al Capone or John Dillinger. As he details in this book, organised crime has gone global. Think Goldman Sachs or MacDonalds, but infinitely dirtier

The sex and drugs —cocaine, opium, and cannabis—are of course there, but they represent only one small fraction of what organised crime gets into. We read here of more traditional forms of organised crime: protection rackets, the trafficking of human labour and prostitutes, and fencing of stolen goods. We also learn of its more arcane forms: email scams; traffic of oil and arms; sales of rare earth metals, diamonds and gold; counterfeiting of goods; and tax fraud. And, of course, the highway that makes it all possible and profitable: money laundering.

The journalistic approach was something I personally found frustrating because it made it difficult to step back and see the big picture. Nevertheless, certain themes gradually stand out. The main drivers of globalised organised crime are:

• Hungry jocks
(view spoiler)

• Weak, underfunded (read: small) governments
(view spoiler)

• Demand
(view spoiler)

• Globalisation and the deregulation of financial markets
(view spoiler)

Speculation as to the Future

Futurology is a mug's game. But the upcoming decade will, I think, provide an interesting live experiment where Europe, racked by its austerity and its flailing economy, will undoubtedly see its states and governments weakened. Their close proximity to the Eastern European dens of organised crime will surely represent a lucrative opportunity for recruitment of disenchanted and unemployed young men and the expansion into new territories of production and labour.

The ability to capture and corrupt big business and governments of such brand-name countries will surely prove too tempting a prize. And for those who think that these governments have already been captured, I can assure you that this is small potatoes compared to the levels and extent of corruption in Asia and Africa where, in the worst countries, corruption is a cost to every single daily transaction.

But, hey, it's no big deal. Think of it as a form of voluntary tax. Instead of paying the government, you pay the gangsters. Some already feel that it amounts to the same thing. As Glenny notes, when communism fell in Eastern Europe, instead of paying taxes to the state (which had no idea how to tax the new small-scale private enterprise), businesses willingly handed over 10-30 per cent of their turnover to local thugs, who would ensure in exchange that they could continue trading, free from the violence of gangsters working on behalf of their competitors. The best part was that they weren't being forced by the state to pay. It was all voluntary. Well, the catch was that if they chose not to pay, they'd likely have died, but hey, it's a free market: caveat emptor, man, caveat emptor!

One key area that will undoubtedly represent low-hanging fruit is cybercrime. Glenny notes that the three key prerequisites for cybercrime are steep levels of poverty and unemployment; a high standard of basic education for a majority of the population; and a strong presence of more traditional organised-crime forms. These factors are highly likely to mature in a poverty-stricken Europe of the next decade. And their underfunded governments will find it hard to build the departments of skilled technical staff needed to tackle these problems.

A recent article in the Guardian suggests that the takeover has already begun. It reports that gangs have started targeting homeless people in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Southampton, Dover, Leicester, and Luton and turning them into modern-day slaves. Note that England's austerity measures have yet to kick in.

Yes, I think the next decade will indeed be an interesting experiment in rampant and wild-west capitalism. But, you know, I know that I can rest assured that all the money being generated by this crimebusiness will trickle back down to the population to create even more wealth for all. Wonderful thing to look forward to isn't it? I'm so excited I could pee in my pants.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Have you seen or read Gomorrah?


Whitaker Chris wrote: "Have you seen or read Gomorrah?"

It looks really interesting. Thanks for introducing it! I see you gave it 5 stars too. I should check it out.


Patrick Gomorrah suffers a bit from the same problem as Glenny's book - it's more reportage than presenting any overriding thesis - but it is an interesting companion book in that it goes into much greater detail with regards one particular organised crime group and the impact it has had. Both worth reading.


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