Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Misha Glenny is an award-winning journalist and an expert in the Balkans. He has just written a book called McMafia: Crime without Frontiers. It is reviewed in an article entitled "Gazillions" in the latest edition of the London Review of Books. This blogger has not, admittedly, read the book yet, but the review is encouraging:

This is essentially a book of wonderful reporting. Although it has reflections at the beginning and the end, its matter is divided up into stories of Glenny’s expeditions into region after region. And in each place he visits, Glenny usually does four things. He meets somebody in the game who is prepared to talk and boast; he interviews a law enforcer (a whole gallery of brave, wise but usually pessimistic cops); he seeks out humble victims of the traffic or the racket; and he explains the local history of organised crime.

The review, and the book, examine many of the dynamics of diverse arrays of mafias and their historical context, and make some interesting points. Here is one:

At the heart of all the arguments about mafias and organised crime lies the issue of denied demand. People want something. Governments and international organisations say they shouldn’t have it, or only at prohibitively inflated prices. This denied demand instantly creates a network of illegal, criminal services. Neoliberals can retort: liberalise and legalise, then stand back and watch the mafias wither. This is not Glenny’s instinct. He has walked in too many dark places to believe in benevolent ‘hidden hands’, or in some Big Smiley in the sky blessing every want and lust. . .

It’s a mistake, anyway, to see organised crime as merely a shadow extension of the free-market economy. The unregulated market is itself largely a myth; it creates disorder and risks which require more policing and more public rescue interventions than the old Keynesian economies did.

This kind of discussion about liberalisation and regulation presents an interesting set of arguments, which TJN has explored, and will continue to explore, on many occasions. Yet it is the final paragraph of this book review which catches our eye, and is worth noting from a renowned expert in the field.

Glenny ends with a call for action. The task, which no government wants to confront, is to regulate the global markets and above all the financial markets. National governments (including the British) which issue sanctimonious statements about global crime must start by closing down their offshore banking centres (the Caymans, the British Virgin Islands and so on), which are the world’s laundries for dirty money. There was a moment in the 1990s when regulation seemed possible. But nothing happened. Misha Glenny’s closing words are despairing: ‘Since the millennium . . . a hostile United States, an incompetent European Union, a cynical Russia and an indifferent Japan have combined with the unstoppable ambition of China and India to usher in a vigorous springtime both for global corporations and for transnational organised crime.’

We agree with the prescription. But we are less despairing, it seems, than Glenny seems to be, about the possibility of change. Glenny correctly identifies some of the big challenges, certainly, and is right to note how a brief period of hope in the 1990s, when some political will began to emerge in the OECD and the United States to tackle the problems - before being extinguished again when - and even before - the current U.S. administration took power.

But the times, they are-a-changing again. On a daily basis we sniff the global political winds, and we sense a completely different political environment today - a distinct and powerful mood shift that has emerged only in the past year, and especially in the last six months, with new events such as the UBS scandal, the Liechtenstein Affair, US Senator Barack Obama's Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, recognition by U.S. Democrats and by Republicans of the need for dramatic changes to domestic and international taxation, the subprime crisis provoking new calls for regulation of international finance- and much, much more. Join us, and push for changes that could dramatically reduce poverty, inequality, instability, corruption, exclusion, and that would profoundly reinforce democratic processes around the world and starve Glenny's burgeoning mafias of the oxygen they need to survive and flourish.


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