How family crime squads have denied Italy its prosperity.
“The agriculture and food sectors have become priority investment areas for organised crime groups” – Roberto Moncalvo, crime writer
From the sun baked, sleepy South to the smaller surrounding islands, Southern Italian locals are not impressed. They have suffered for generations under the oppression and exploitation not of their government, but of family crime organisations. No one can deny that criminal activity is embedded in Italian history. And even fewer people would deny that criminals have shaped it; exploiting artillery and tactical scare campaigns to expand in their communal warfare. The mafia, or Mafioso, is one of the most recognised and feared criminal organisations in the world, may be shining bright in the duskiness of Hollywood. But the people living under their regime are paying more than the social cost.
Nowadays, the mafia represents not an organisation but an enterprise. In the state of Italy alone, they control and operate over 5,000 bars and restaurants – from pizzerias to ice-cream parlours – typically under dummy corporation names. But it’s what they do with these businesses that really stings Italy: anything except the production of goods and services. The transferring of businesses from individual Italian owners to the mafioso comes about under repayment agreements. Unpaid debts to the criminals, essentially, leaves the debtor with one of two options; either hand over their business (which in most cases has been in the family for generations) or suffer the brutal and likely fatal consequences of defying the unwritten system. But, in terms of economic impact, the takeover by non-business owners is perhaps even more fatal. Either the businesses become drug fronts, brothels or housing for illegal immigrants, or they’re simply left as vacant blocks of land. Obviously Italy cannot produce at its optimal level as such.
In a city famous for its family-orientated businesses producing superior quality cuisine, we can only wonder at how dramatically Southern Italian community life has changed with the progressive transition to lax legislation regarding criminal activity. It was only in 2004, after all, that then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right hand man Marcello Dell’Utr was sentenced to prison for acting as the ‘Ambassador for Milan’ for the criminal alliance Cosa Nostra. As such a dominant fraternity we cannot realistically assume that the Mafioso and Parliament are entirely independent, which lies at the heart of the problem.
But while certain communities face the arrogance, intimidation and regular threats the mobsters pose, the whole of Italy suffers from their intervention in the marketplace. As Moncalvo pointed out, it is economic exploitation in fact, that reigns as crime group’s biggest target. As we know, Italy suffered extreme hardship from 2009-11 with the unveiling of the Euro crises. Renowned for repossessing vacant blocks of land – either in settlements or stealing – the Mafioso hits its country the hardest. The land (especially in the areas the Mafioso occupies) is rich with nutrients and livelihood to grow crops. But, like the possession of small businesses, the land is left vacant and the olive trees are burnt in a symbolic act of superiority. Italy consists of 72.6 million acres; the Mafioso now possesses 200,000 acres. It is important to note, according to the Italian Institute of Statisitcs, that imports of agricultural products increased from $19.6 billion in 1987 to $20.9 billion in 2001, reflecting the people’s need to purchase abroad rather than stay domestically.
This links on to perhaps the most sacrilegious mafioso operations. Crime groups consistently tamper with ingredients; counter fitting pure products with synthetic replicas. A recent report examined the post-war economic growth of two regions in southern Italy exposed to mafia activity after the 1970s and apply synthetic control methods to estimate their counterfactual economic performance in the absence of organised crime. According to a study by Coldretti, a collaboration of the Italian farmers union, crime groups take in around €14 billion last year from agricultural rackets (i.e. crime syndicates via land exploitation), an increase of 12 percent from 2012. In more simple, this equates to a staggering 16% of GDP per capita.
Jeffery Hatcher, in his 2010 essay The Russian Mafia and its Impact on the Russian Economy, stated that “A single person does not head the mafia in Russia; rather it is a large number of smaller organisations and a few large ones”. Indeed to crack down on such a powerful and historically dominant group may be difficult, but new legislation is needed for Italy to cleanse its corrupted past and ensure prosperity for the new generations of Italians. Southern Italy is riddled with the economic and social costs, but with legislative change it would be worth it.