Micro-Institutions Everywhere: Crime Bosses

The similarity between organized crime and government continues to impress me. The best short read that you will find on this is Charles Tilly’s “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime.” (pdf here) We discussed this topic a lot last semester is Guillermo Trejo’s organized crime course and I am happy to provide further references to those interested. James Scott takes Tilly as one of his influences in the excellent book The Art of Not Being Governed, about which I will have more to say later.  For now, here is further evidence that crime bosses understand the importance of veto points:

But Kobayashi ran an unusual business. He was in the business of organized crime. He started this venture quite young, expanded his operations, diversified revenue streams, and created very profitable independent business units. “I have two lawyers,” he once told me. “I keep them both because they hate each other. Neither one of them can get out of line because the other one is watching him. That keeps me safe.” Kobayashi was brilliant, witty, and dangerous. He was a friend and mentor to me during an interesting period of time in my early 20s.

The close relationship between criminals and their lawyers, which at times borders on the psychoanalytic, comes across strikingly in shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad. It appears that this relationship at least occasionally takes on the form of a micro-institution in real-world practice. One could imagine the competition between two lawyers escalating into violence, but the quotation above suggests that they function as hostile but effective checks and balances on one another. And here you were thinking that animosity between the President and Congress was bad.

Further reading: 

What Now: The crime economy,” Reihan Salam.

Why Black Market Entrepreneurs Matter to the World Economy,” Robert Capps.

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