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Über dieses Buch

The author draws on behavioral ecology to predict the evolution of organized crime in unregulated systems of exchange and the further development of racketeer economies into unstable kleptocratic states. The result is a new model that explains the expansion and contraction of political-economic complexity in prehistoric and contemporary societies.



1. Introduction

This book is the product of an odd confluence of events: a secret predilection for lurid crime fiction that unexpectedly collided with readings from a graduate seminar in evolutionary biology many years ago. In a rational world, these divergent realms would not intersect. The reason I started reading lowbrow crime novels in the first place was to escape the highbrow tedium that characterized my anthropology graduate seminars. (There are only so many long-winded discussions of Gramsci and Bourdieu one can endure.) Late-night infusions of lean, minimalist crime fiction offered a compelling antidote to the rhetorical excesses of postmodern theory. But evolutionary biology turned out to be anything but tedious. It was quite enthralling, and over time the class readings began to compete with my stash of pulp fiction until I became equally immersed in both genres. At some point, cognitive wires crossed, and evolutionary theory suddenly sparked a whole new way of thinking about organized crime.

Katherine Hirschfeld

2. What Is Organized Crime?

Concise definitions of organized crime are surprisingly elusive. There is little consensus within or between the disciplines of criminology, anthropology, political science, economics or sociology as to the exact meaning of the term (Armao, 2003; Caiden and Alexander, 1985; Kenney and Fickenauer, 1995; Reuter, 1985a, 1985b; Van Duyne, 2003). In many cases, the phrase “organized crime” is used interchangeably with words like “mafia,” “gangsterism” and “racketeering.” These terms, however, all have different connotations and imprecise meanings.

Katherine Hirschfeld

3. Failing Economics

How do rackets evolve? What structural forces compel them to expand or contract over time? Conventional researchers in the field of economics rarely ask these kinds of questions. The evolutionary origins of racketeering are not problematized in the field. While some economists have engaged in extensive study of informal economies and criminal markets, the perspective of these works is typically cross-sectional rather than longitudinal, meaning these researchers study observable processes in the contemporary era rather than exploring longitudinal patterns over time. Overall, studies of criminal economic activity occupy a narrow niche in the field as a whole (1).

Katherine Hirschfeld

4. The Evolution of Racketeering

The use of behavioral ecology to model the evolution of racketeering and organized crime in unregulated systems of exchange does have some points of overlap with the emerging field of behavioral economics. Behavioral economists maintain that psychological variables have measurable impacts on individual economic decision making and behavior (Camerer and Loewenstein, 2004). Much research in this area is conducted in laboratory settings so that subjects can be rigorously studied under controlled conditions. This approach also allows psychologically oriented economists to explore neurological substrates of economic behavior, such as reciprocity and altruism (Fehr and Schmidt, 2004). Behavioral economics also has implications for research with non-human primates, whose behavioral systems have also been shown to include notions of fairness as well as systems of reciprocity and exchange (see de Waal, 2010).

Katherine Hirschfeld

5. Organized Crime and Kleptocracy

Gangster-states are defined here as chimeric, transitional political economies that temporarily formalize the extractive economic monopolies of racketeering over marked geographic territory. Once territorial boundaries become established, the racket resembles a rudimentary kleptocratic state, with the security forces repurposed beyond monopoly enforcement into activities more typically associated with government. These may include the organization of economic production, conflict resolution and territorial defense. Gangster-state territories are not fixed or static, as kleptocratic elites will seek to colonize surrounding territory if conditions are favorable. On the other hand, the extractive core of racketeering creates an impetus for conflict with neighboring groups as well as exhaustive depletion of resources that may ultimately lead to political-economic decline or collapse.

Katherine Hirschfeld

6. Things Fall Apart … and Rebuild

Joseph Tainter was the first anthropologist to explore political decline and collapse in comparative perspective (1988). His book begins with a contrarian observation: The presence of so many archaeological ruins around the world suggests complex societies are transient and fragile, and modern populations may not be immune to the forces that caused these prehistoric civilizations to collapse. He describes these considerations as presenting “a difficult mystery” since researchers have always perceived “an inexorable trend toward higher levels of complexity” in human societies (Tainter, 1988:3). Until the 1980s, explanations of collapse—when they appeared at all—were done in an ad hoc manner, for one society at a time (Tainter, 1988:3). There was no comparative modeling to establish common patterns.

Katherine Hirschfeld

7. Darwinian Political Economy

This work began back in the 1990s, when a seedy crime novel collided with a graduate seminar in evolutionary biology to generate an unusual set of research questions: Is racketeering an evolutionary stable strategy? Is the geographic inscription of protection rackets a phase of primary and secondary state formation? How do conflicts between rival racketeers shape longitudinal patterns of inequality, political stability, state formation and state failure?

Katherine Hirschfeld


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