Towards a Bibliography on Criminal Gangs

by Dave Schuler on January 17, 2013

There are lots of reasons to write blog posts. One of the earliest reasons for blog posts or even web pages was for future reference, to serve as a place for useful links. Over the last several days I’ve been doing some research on criminal gangs and I’ve decided to put my best finds here in case I want to look at them again.

2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends

This is a report from the FBI. Fundamental facts and figures.

Legalizing Drugs in the US: A Solution to Mexico’s Problems for Which Mexico Should Not Wait

This is a paper by Jonathan P. Caulkins and Michael Lee of Carnegie Mellon University.

The paper makes a number of interesting points:

We are willing to stipulate for the sake of argument that legalizing all drugs would in fact seriously weaken the DTOs, but nonetheless ask whether it is wise for Mexico to pin its hopes on the US taking such an action. This paper argues that five basic facts combine to answer this question in the negative; it is simply not in US interests to legalize the substances responsible for the bulk of the DTOs’ drug revenues. Since this conclusion favors a status quo that has become so intolerable from Mexico’s perspective, we close by speculating about some out of the box (“orthogonal”) ways for Mexico to think about its options.

The “five basic facts” are:

  1. Legalizing Marijuana Would Not Alter the Character of the Drug War
  2. Prohibition Drives Prices Up Far Above Legal Levels
  3. The Taxes Necessary to Prevent a Price Collapse are Uncollectable
  4. Drug Use Responds To Price
  5. Legalization Is an Irreversible Gamble

The whole thing is well worth reading.

DRUG BUSINESS IS NOT THE KEY TO GANGS AND ORGANIZED CRIME: WITH A PROGNOSIS FOR THE MEXICAN CARTEL WARS

This lengthy blog post, written by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Randall Collins, would be worth including if only for its substantial bibliography. His essential point is that there have been criminal gangs for centuries, predating the drug trade, and that criminal gangs are primarily social rather than economic in nature. They provide social affirmation, psychological support, and mutual defense. You can’t eliminate them by attacking their revenue streams but you might be able to by providing substitutes for the services they’re providing.

An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s Finances

This is a rather famous paper produced by the “Freakonomics” guys.

I’ll include other references as I run across them.

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Icepick January 17, 2013 at 3:37 pm

His essential point is that there have been criminal gangs for centuries, predating the drug trade, and that criminal gangs are primarily social rather than economic in nature. They provide social affirmation, psychological support, and mutual defense.

Yes! What is Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson going to do with his life? Become a medical researcher? Only if he becomes a Dutchman and changes his name to something respectable!

steve January 17, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I would also recommend the Peter Moskos book, Cop In The Hood. He has written for Balko occasionally.

Steve

Steve Verdon January 17, 2013 at 4:02 pm


We are willing to stipulate for the sake of argument that legalizing all drugs would in fact seriously weaken the DTOs…

Just quoting with emphasis.

Fact 1: Legalizing Marijuana Would Not Alter the Character of the Drug War

I find this claim laughable. It is like saying if Exxon-Mobil suddenly had a 60% drop in profits they’d not change one little tiny bit.

Pardon me, I have to go fall down laughing.

Drew January 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

I think this is a very admirable list of resources. However, I find it all as somewhat of a self fulfilling deal.

So graft, dishonesty, rent seeking, organized crime etc have been around for years. Well, yeah!

But it is so because of created scarcity or illegality of the very things we are discussing…….for years. Gambling, the oldest profession, alcohol and mood altering drugs are the raw material for illegal control and distribution by our very own design. Now, the protection racket. Seems different.

So I find these studies self fulfilling promises. As I snarked, I don’t think gangs are interested in controlling the amoxycillin business. So deal with their major revenue streams and strip the artificially created profit potential and you have impaired their opportunities. Will they move to protection rackets? Maybe. But can people cite to me 4 potential “markets” for the gangs outside of alcohol (tax driven), a key and limited suite of drugs or the ladies?

I’m struggling with this.

Dave Schuler January 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm

But it is so because of created scarcity or illegality of the very things we are discussing…….for years. Gambling, the oldest profession, alcohol and mood altering drugs are the raw material for illegal control and distribution by our very own design. Now, the protection racket. Seems different.

I don’t think that anyone could disagree that if you made all activities legal then illegal activities and the profits to be made from them would vanish. The question is how far would you go?

Michael raised the point of illegal gambling, claiming, incorrectly, that Vegas and state lotteries had eliminated it. Illegal gambling is bigger than ever.

There are good reasons not to legalize prostitution and you don’t need to be a bluenose to recognize that. Far too much of it consists of forcing girls, boys, and women into engaging in sexual activities for money. Legalizing it won’t change that.

Four potential markets? That’s easy. Human trafficking, extortion, identify theft, and theft of intellectual property. Check out the FBI document above. These are all growth businesses for criminal gangs. I’ll add a fifth: weapons trafficking.

The list of potential activities for criminal gangs is practically endless. Theft is already a major activity of criminal gangs. In one or another of the references it’s suggested that the overwhelming preponderance of theft is the work of criminal gangs.

Icepick January 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Michael raised the point of [insert topic], claiming, incorrectly, that [insert Michael's conclusion].

Sounds about par for the course.

PD Shaw January 18, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Drew, last summer after taking the family to the Museum of Science and Industry and using my GPS to map my way home, we proceeded East and Southeast from there to the interstate. Its been quite a while since I drove past such a long stretch of grinding, depressing poverty. I don’t know where this area relates to other areas of Chicago, but I use to pass through Kabrini Green all of the time, and that was always like yikes, how did I get here (thanks mapquest!) and then I was gone. It wasn’t the miles and miles that this trip took me through.

I feel like the drug legalizers think this crap will bloom into a new way of life if the drug trade is marginalized, but I cannot see it. Maybe its a piece of a larger puzzle, but I think people need to realize that human beings want more than the material goods of a low-paying job; young men in particular want a little excitement, a sense that their life has more meaning, and that a little risk might entail a moment of glory even if its fleeting. This is the stuff of classic literature. They need something better when (if) the drug trade evaporates.

Steve Verdon January 18, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Four potential markets? That’s easy. Human trafficking, extortion, identify theft, and theft of intellectual property. Check out the FBI document above. These are all growth businesses for criminal gangs. I’ll add a fifth: weapons trafficking.

How much money are we talking here. If we legalized drugs, would human trafficking get so big it would be compared to the trade of oil?

Granted arms sales are huge, but the biggest sellers are governments and gangs will have a long, long way to go to beat that.

I don’t doubt gangs would respond to a loss of drug revenues by looking for new sources. But looking and finding are two different things. And even if you did find it, will it be just as profitable? Those favoring keeping drugs illegal assume the answer is yes to all of the above.

I feel like the drug legalizers think this crap will bloom into a new way of life if the drug trade is marginalized, but I cannot see it.

So, lets keep letting drug cartels make $350 billion (world wide) via drugs. No point trying to…well…anything because the gangs are like a bacteria or a virus and will simply mutate. So we should stop trying to eliminate gangs entirely, it will never ever work.

Next problem.

PD Shaw January 18, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Steve V, one of the reasons I’m skeptical about this type of analaysis is that the major cities in the United States had twice the rate of murders in the major cities in Europe over two-hundred years ago. Our police forces were formed in response to organized mob violence in the early nineteenth century, not crime per se. Some of it was polticial gang violence (see Baltimore in 1812, not assault weapons, cannons).

The penchant for violence, social organizations which entail violence, and excessive drug and alcohol abuse appear to be higher than other first world countries for a long, long time, much longer than the 1930s prohibition era. This appears to be a result of the lack of social cohesion and heirarchy in America (not that I’m arguing for those). Freedom ain’t for free.

steve January 18, 2013 at 6:57 pm

I thought the context here was violence. Prohibitions have seen increased violence. Controlling prostitution? Identity theft? Dont see it. Human trafficking? Maybe. Harder to ship. More limited markets. I really dont see people robbing folks at gunpoint to get money to buy someone, as opposed to a couple of bags of dope.

Steve

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