Gemma Dipoppa (Brown University), “How Criminal Organizations Expand to Strong States: Migrant Exploitation and Political Brokerage in Northern Italy”
The widespread presence of criminal organizations in strong states presents a theoretical and empirical puzzle. How do criminal organizations—widely believed to thrive in weak states—expand to states with strong capacity? I argue that criminal groups expand where they can strike agreements with local actors for the provision of illegal resources they control, and that this service is particularly useful in strong states, where illegality is riskier. Using a novel measure of mafia presence, I show that(1) increases in demand for unskilled labor, and in criminals’ capacity to fill it by exploiting migrants allowed southern Italian mafias to expand to the north, and that (2) mafia expansion gave a persistent electoral advantage to political parties collaborating with them. Organized crime expansion relied on deals with economic and political actors needing to keep illegal transactions hidden from the state—a service critical in strong state contexts.
Co-sponsored by FAS and IQSS, the Alberto Alesina Seminar on Political Economy supports research-related activities that integrate the study of economics and politics, whether by studying economic behavior in the political process or political behavior in the marketplace. In general, positive political economy is concerned with showing how observed differences among institutions affect political and economic outcomes in various social, economic, and political systems and how the institutions themselves change and develop in response to individual and collective beliefs, preferences, and strategies.
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