The weak state and the rise of the Mafia

"Diego Gambetta, however, presents an elegant economic theory of the Mafia's origins: mafiosi are private entrepreneurs whose function is to provide protection of individual property rights in a society in which the state fails to perform this basic service." -- Fukuyama, p. 114

In fact, according to what I have read, state law enforcement was almost entirely absent in Sicily when it was ruled by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 19th century. (One of the "Two Sicilies" was the mezzogiorno.)

As Gambetta writes:

"In all likelihood, by the time Italy was unified in 1860-61 the foundations of this peculiar industry were already firmly in place. Not only did the state have to fight to establish itself and its law as the legitimate authority and a credible guarantor in a region where no such authority had previously existed."

So, in Sicily before the creation of the Italian state, there was effectively no state at all. The Mafia filled this vacuum.

This history would seem to present a problem for anarcho-capitalists. Our good friend Bob Murphy "deals" with this problem by contending the problem was... the state!

So, although we are dealing with a region in which state control was almost entirely absent, which would seem to be ideal conditions for the establishment of ancap defense agencies, the mere whiff of the state in their vicinity caused these agencies to become violent criminal gangs. This does not argue well for the stability of anarcho-capitalism!


  1. I suspect you meant "weak state", not the seven-day state :)

    Otherwise I agree.

    1. Yes, Lorenzo, That was Siri speaking for me. Now corrected.

  2. "... mafiosi are private entrepreneurs whose function is to provide protection of individual property rights ..."

    Sounds right to me. Years back, in an episode of Hill Street Blues, a gang leader explained his role to Captain Frank Furillo: "I'm the government."

  3. Two things Gene:

    (1) Now we can refine our musings on Fukuyama: Either he was playing dumb with his readers when he said no free market economist would deny the government should provide public goods, OR he skipped all the footnotes when he read Gambetta.

    (2) For a future post Gene, it would be interesting if you explained whether you agreed that, say, "Alcohol selling per se does not require immoral violence, but it does when the State prohibits it," and then further explained why that pattern holds for everything except police and judicial services.

  4. (1) Really doesn't interest me, and since I can't read Fukuyama's mind, I have nothing to say on it.

    (2) The whole point is there was no state in Sicely to be prohibiting any protection services. And of course, it is not state prohibition that makes alcohol provision violent under prohibition: it is lack of access to state courts. So in alcohol and drug prohibition, it is precisely the absence of the state that leads to violence.

    1. (2) Well put. In a sense making an activity illegal is tantamount to saying *use private law instead*. One reason why prohibition was a disaster.

    2. Ken B: agreed, except why do you say "was"? Surely drug prohibition still is, for precisely that reason.

    3. Oh I perfectly agree Lorenzo. But Murphy talked about alcohol only.


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