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If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia
October 24, 2011 9:22 AM   Subscribe

The Mexican Mafia has significant operational control only within prisons, yet manages to tax street gangs at rates of 10-30% of revenues. It has become a kind of government. A PDF of the corresponding journal article exists here.
posted by exogenous (30 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Vanguard recently did an awesome longform piece on gangs in California prisons that will give a lot of context to this:

California State Prison at Corcoran is a maximum security facility that houses some of the most violent inmates in the country. Laura Ling reports on the complex power plays taking place behind bars as various prison gangs vie for power. Here is the post it was from
posted by Blasdelb at 9:29 AM on October 24, 2011


A sufficiently organized mafia is indistinguishable from. . .
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:05 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


See, in the absence of a democratically controlled state that answers to the public interest, it's not that monopolies on the use of force, or social control mechanisms, or even taxes disappear: In the absence of state control, ordinary people just have no choice but to suck it up and let whoever has the most raw power (either in terms of capacity for violence or control of some valuable resource) become the new de facto government. That's one of the many reasons it's a dangerous mistake to think "less government" = "more freedom." Better government = more freedom.

Absence of government just leads to the proliferation of illegitimate, private governmental control systems and the rule of might makes right.

"More Freedom" in that overly-simplistic, hardcore Libertarian sense--not big government--gave us slavery systems in the first place. The pre-modern slave trade is actually one of the first examples of a truly globalized, unregulated trade with large international conglomerates (Dutch, British, etc.) doing business without any state regulation to constrain them.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:16 AM on October 24, 2011 [64 favorites]


That's interesting. It's a shame that the commenters there are such goddamned raving racists that any hope of a decent conversation is scuttled by anti-immigration assholes.
posted by klangklangston at 10:19 AM on October 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


A sufficiently organized mafia is indistinguishable from. . .

That gets the genealogy exactly backwards, though. The mafia's came first; the modern state emerged as people's best efforts to protect themselves from the various kinds of mafias that had always controlled their lives for their own selfish benefit before.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:19 AM on October 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Saul, I certainly disagree with you from time to time, but that is one of the best comments I've read on the Blue in a while.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:30 AM on October 24, 2011


Not sure whose tree you're barking up saulgoodman because no one on the right seems to include the police, the military, and the various and sundry security agencies in their definition of "big government." Indeed, they are some of the strongest proponents of the rule of law and its harsh enforcement. I mean when the police crack the skulls of protesters it isn't Ron Paul complaining about it. It's usually - and often exclusively - the people on the other side of the aisle.
posted by three blind mice at 10:47 AM on October 24, 2011


I don't doubt better government == more freedom, but this is an example of a governmental policy (drug war and prison system) enabling a corrupt power:

prison walls and armed correctional officers protect the incarcerated Mexican Mafia members from a “popular revolt” by nonincarcerated Suren ̃os. They cannot storm the prison en masse and kill the members of the Mexican Mafia without evoking a massive law enforcement response.

Sure, the law protects the general population from bad guys, but in this case it also protects the well-organized from the disorganized. The US drug policy and prison system make this protection scheme possible. It's a failure of government, not an example of absence of government.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:56 AM on October 24, 2011


A government does not have a monopoly on force, no one does or can. Use of force is an option for all but the bed ridden. Governments have a monopoly on the legitimization of force. Putting out the order to stop drive-bys, and having that order respected, makes a strong case for rightfully comparing the Mexican Mafia to a government.

See, in the absence of a democratically controlled state that answers to the public interest, it's not that monopolies on the use of force, or social control mechanisms, or even taxes disappear: In the absence of state control, ordinary people just have no choice but to suck it up and let whoever has the most raw power (either in terms of capacity for violence or control of some valuable resource) become the new de facto government.

This implies that where you have a strong state you will not find organized crime with command of their area of operations. And by command, I mean comparable to the level of control ascribed to the Mexican Mafia here. Where's the evidence for such a championing of the "democratically controlled state"? You certainly don't see it here. Maybe Russia? Or Japan? Or do we need to follow the example of Singapore to attain the "freedom" offered by Big Government?
posted by BigSky at 11:00 AM on October 24, 2011


The Mexican Mafia has significant operational control only within prisons, yet manages to tax street gangs at rates of 10-30% of revenues.

Because I have been born and bred in the states, I am all confused about what I should think about taxes.

But dude, the Mexican mafia taxes! Fuck you multinational corporations that make $40trillion per year, and then argue for a 1% flat tax because it would be more than those poor lazy minorities should have.

Also, the mexican mafia has more consistent accounting practices than you. Put that in your gaap and deduct it.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:07 AM on October 24, 2011


This implies that where you have a strong state you will not find organized crime with command of their area of operations.

It's worth noting that the journal articles says there's "no evidence that people engaged in legal businesses pay taxes to theMexican Mafia" (p. 9).
posted by exogenous at 11:21 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The point is, it's not government that causes these behaviors. It's nature. That's why they're so ubiquitous. Mexico has a weak government, with lots of gaps in its authority and little popular legitimacy. The power-seeking tendencies that are driving the mafia to opportunistically exploit the gap in the state's power to help itself organize are natural, not a bi-product of the existence of the state.

When power gaps exist, they will be filled, and in the absence of a state that answers to its public, those gaps will simply be filled by those who are in the best position to exploit the gaps.

That's why even in the absence of centralized states in the feudal era, private legal mechanisms (fealty oaths, etc.) were used to oppress people under the system of might makes right.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:53 AM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mean when the police crack the skulls of protesters it isn't Ron Paul complaining about it.

Bullshit.

Ron Paul talks about the Occupy Wall Street movement and the militarization of our police force.

The guy has the wrong views on abortion, and I disagree with him on cutting social services and other government program, but he's had the right policy viewpoint on the drug war and civil liberties for a long time. And the drug war is a big reason for the issues with our prisons and the Mexican Mafia.

Libertarian views get dissed a lot on MeFi. But you can balance civil-libertarian ideals with green and liberal beliefs. I'd just like people to keep that in mind. We just saw the TSA moving to search trucks and vehicles, something most people on here disagreed with. Ron Paul and other civil-liberties supporters disagree with this. It's something to keep in mind. He brings a lot of supporters, some of who are crazy, but most of them just want to be left alone. Most have been ignored by the Democrats for too long.
posted by formless at 12:01 PM on October 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mexico has a weak government, with lots of gaps in its authority and little popular legitimacy.

You did RTFA and realize that the MM's power base is in Southern California, not Mexico, right? It's an ethnicity thing, not a political thing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:30 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The point is, it's not government that causes these behaviors

It sounds like government is pretty complicit with these behaviors. Big government as exemplified by the war on drugs virtually guarantees any player has a good chance at seeing a turn in the other big government program, the penal system. This high probability allows a jail bound mafia to reliably extract rents from those whose number haven't yet come up.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:33 PM on October 24, 2011


Yes, poorly-run governments with too little power that aren't responsive to their people or the public interest are a problem, too. But weak, ineffective government is not a good solution to that problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:41 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, poorly-run governments with too little power that aren't responsive to their people or the public interest are a problem, too. But weak, ineffective government is not a good solution to that problem.

Think "small" instead of "weak". Big government means more regulation, and every time a consensual exchange is made illegal, a market is created for the criminals.

As the paper points out, the majority, if not entirety, of gang revenue comes from selling illegal drugs. It's a "government protected" market - protected from competition. Burglars might be associates of criminal organizations but the organizations typically need a more stable source of revenue, something where they have regular returning customers like drugs, prostitution and gambling. Stronger, bigger government isn't going to help, not unless you're willing to largely forego civil liberties.
posted by BigSky at 1:18 PM on October 24, 2011


A government does not have a monopoly on force, no one does or can. Use of force is an option for all but the bed ridden.

A government has a monopoly on force in the sense that no one but agents of the government can use force with impunity.

It may be impossible to prevent a person from committing assault in advance, but after the fact they will be arrested. A gang of heavily armed survivalists might be able to keep the police away from their compound at first, but they'd quickly find themselves surrounded and outnumbered. Secrecy and omerta can give serial killers and mafia members long careers, but they will need to keep their heads down because they will be hunted.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:21 PM on October 24, 2011


A government has a monopoly on force in the sense that no one but agents of the government can use force with impunity.

If the government is strong enough and recognized by its people as legitimate, this might be true. But look at the kind of violence carried out with impunity in Mexico. It's the weakness of the state--and its perceived lack of legitimacy among the people--that makes that possible.

BigSky: As a general rule, most of us would probably agree to ignore any mechanic who told us we could get our car running better and faster simply by shrinking or just arbitrarily removing parts from the engine, or by starving the engine of gas. Why shouldn't I apply the same healthy skepticism to claims about something as important as the republic? I'm just not buying that brand of snake oil anymore, sorry.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:56 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eme works like any other organized criminal syndicate, their bread and butter is protection/extortion. I'm reading the article and not seeing anything but a rehash of better scholars.

This isn't rocket science. It isn't misunderstood.
posted by graftole at 1:58 PM on October 24, 2011


As a general rule, most of us would probably agree to ignore any mechanic who told us we could get our car running better and faster simply by shrinking or just arbitrarily removing parts from the engine, or by starving the engine of gas. Why shouldn't I apply the same healthy skepticism to claims about something as important as the republic? I'm just not buying that brand of snake oil anymore, sorry.

LOL at your use of "arbitrarily". That's mighty slick.

Also, designers and manufacturers frequently market with the claim that their products are robust due to their simplification.

-----

A government has a monopoly on force in the sense that no one but agents of the government can use force with impunity.

Yes, that why I described their monopoly as one of legitimization of the use of force. When someone kills and the state determines he acted in self-defense, the legitimization of the act means he no longer has to worry about a response from the biggest group of armed goons around. It's remarkably similar to the Mexican Mafia giving an OK, or not, to a drive-by shooting in East L.A.
posted by BigSky at 2:22 PM on October 24, 2011


most of us would probably agree to ignore any mechanic who told us we could get our car running better and faster simply by shrinking or just arbitrarily removing parts from the engine, or by starving the engine of gas.

Arbitrarily? We can also ignore a mechanic that arbitrarily adds stuff to your car in the hope that it will perform better. Good thing actual mechanics don't do stuff arbitrarily.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:57 PM on October 24, 2011


It's a great thing that mechanics aren't elected!
posted by graftole at 3:07 PM on October 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


But, seriously, do not, under any circumstances legalize marijuana. Marijuana's bad, 'kay? It'll make you crazy, 'kay? Them damn hippies is crazy, 'kay, they don't know simple facts!
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:10 PM on October 24, 2011


Interesting article, terrible, terrible thread - one of the worst i've ever seen on mefi etc.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:17 PM on October 24, 2011


A government has a monopoly on force...if the government is strong enough and recognized by its people as legitimate.

Agreed.

It's remarkably similar to the Mexican Mafia giving an OK, or not, to a drive-by shooting in East L.A.

To the extent that a government is not recognized as legitimate by the people, it is indeed similar.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:36 PM on October 24, 2011


Wait a minute, you mean that a organized crime cartel is trying to consolidate power by acting as a surrogate government to a disenfranchised population? I've never heard of that before.
posted by jonmc at 5:02 PM on October 24, 2011


LOL at your use of "arbitrarily". That's mighty slick.

Sorry, but your suggestion for making government "smaller" sounds like a pretty damn arbitrary one to me, speaking of slick. Especially when the people who keep pitching that philosophy in my state do shit like requiring drug tests before letting us claim our own prepaid unemployment insurance benefits, or making it possible for our employers to deny us those benefits by accusing us of "misconduct" on our personal time outside of work. Or limiting our rights to organize unions. Freedom and representation for no one but the boss man is slavery, no matter how you dress it up.

posted by saulgoodman at 6:31 PM on October 24, 2011


Especially when the people who keep pitching that philosophy in my state do shit like requiring drug tests before letting us claim our own prepaid unemployment insurance benefits, or making it possible for our employers to deny us those benefits by accusing us of "misconduct" on our personal time outside of work. Or limiting our rights to organize unions.

Is any of that related to the black markets created by government regulation of consensual activities? Talk about arbitrary. This is about smaller government in the context of one that is not trying to fight a drug war or clamp down on gambling and prostitution.

Freedom and representation for no one but the boss man is slavery, no matter how you dress it up.

What's up with the sloganeering? This sounds like you're making a speech in the park.
posted by BigSky at 6:29 AM on October 25, 2011


Annals of Crime: The Brand (unfortunately paywalled, New Yorker article @ Aryan Nation prison gang. absolutely chilling.)

American Me - decent Ed Olmos flick @ the rise of the Mexican Mafia. A bit on the nose but I found it pretty interesting, esp. the history of the Zoot Suit riots (didn't know that was a real thing)

Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate - interesting analysis of things like heroin branding
posted by jcruelty at 10:37 PM on October 25, 2011


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