As Corridors of Power reported this week, a recent report from an Italian retailers association revealed the incredible extent to which the mafia still plagues the southern Italian economy:
Confesercenti — quoted in the newspaper Corriere della Sera — listed the fixed rates for protection. Market stall holders paid $14 per day per stall. Store owners budgeted between $140 and $200 a month (more in Palermo), and building contractors anything up to $17,000 to keep things from going wrong on a construction site. Paradoxically, says the retailers association, the more mobsters the police arrest, the more protection money needs to be raised to cover lawyers’ fees.
In a related story, the Economist earlier this month looked at how one Italian businessman is taking on the mob:
Not everyone approves of Mr Venturi’s enthusiastic involvement in civic circles. In August, his wife found a bag outside their home containing two bullets, along with a note saying that he had gone too far. It was only the latest of a series of threats from local mafiosi. The authorities have provided two armed policemen to protect him.
Whether the Camorra around Naples, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, or Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Italy’s Mafias remain a force to be reckoned with. On October 2nd, following a long string of arson attacks around the province, Caltanissetta’s prosecutor-general called for the army to be sent in so that more policemen would be available to fight crime. In a survey that tried to measure the risk of extortion in Italy’s different provinces, Caltanissetta ranked second, after a province in Calabria.
But few southern businessmen, Italy’s prosecutors gripe, ever dare to report the mobsters’ misdeeds officially, let alone campaign against their influence. That is how Mr Venturi earned the Mafia’s ire.
We don’t usually think of such old-style criminal organizations in the same way as other non-state actors — terrorists or armed guerillas — who threaten state sovereignty. But its clear that Italy’s Mafia has for a long time waged a brand of insurgency that is quietly devastating to the Italian economy and the civic virtues that are part and parcel of lawful economic activity.
Perhaps Italian authorities will increasingly get the cooperation they need to break the mafia’s hold, and 10 years from now Italian television can run a popular series about the last days of the mafia era, as told through the lives of a family in whatever is the Italian equivalent of the northern New Jersey suburbs.