Criminal economies of scale

February 23, 1996

TRANSNATIONAL ORGANISED CRIME Edited by Phil Williams Frank Cass, quarterly, Pounds 38.00 (individuals), Pounds 90.00 (institutions) ISSN 1357 7387

Economic analysis has made us familiar with topics such as the international division of labour, cross-country production, offshore financial ventures and so on. This analysis attempts to describe the incessant movement of business in search of opportunities within an increasingly transnational logic.

This process of globalisation, which seems to be applicable to many other spheres of social life, could hardly avoid affecting criminal activity. Transnational Organised Crime is a new scholarly journal which adopts a similarly global framework of analysis in the description of criminal business.

The chief idea behind the journal is that as legitimate business pursues opportunities in every country of the world, so does organised crime. The former is attracted to areas where labour and infrastructures are sold at low prices, and the latter is lured where raw materials, financial services and officials can be bought cheaply.

That organised crime has become a global phenomenon is shown by the emergence of highly structured criminal groups operating both in developed and developing countries. It is also proven by the establishment of consortia and partnerships among organised criminals on the one hand, and the existence of decentralised agencies set up abroad by individual criminal groups, on the other. Accordingly, the first two issues of this journal host contributions from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Designed to be both analytical and policy relevant, Transnational Organised Crime offers insights into "cross-border criminal activities involving such things as trafficking in drugs, people, weapons, and nuclear material, as well as the laundering of the proceeds from these various activities". The aim of the journal is to provide national law enforcement agencies and international security and intelligence services with the latest research in the field.

To what extent this aim is achieved is open to debate. Most articles published in the initial issues of Transnational Organised Crime are based on information derived from the very agencies that the journal purports to service. Official or semi-official records, court proceedings, journalistic accounts and law enforcement information constitute the bulk of the empirical sources used. This confirms the difficulties encountered by social scientists in the study of organised crime, a field that offers an array of secondary sources but leaves scant opportunities for participant observation and ethnographic research. However, the effort of collating this material, highlighting trends and sometimes shaping theories remains a worthwhile exercise, one which is performed excellently by this journal.

The editors include forms of business crime, which are usually described as white collar or corporate offences, among their study interests. In so doing, they challenge the notion that business and organised criminals ought to be analysed separately. The editors of this journal seem to suggest that transnational organised crime defines less the social characteristics of offenders than the techniques and rationale behind their offences.

An underlying principle which permits the joint analysis of these two types of offending is that both should be understood against the usual economic categories revolving around choice. In this perspective, it is important that future issues of this new journal do not limit their focus to conventional organised groups such as the Colombian cartels, Chinese triads, Japanese yakuza, Russian organised crime groups and the Italian-American mafia.

Less glamorous groups should also be studied who conduct economic activities similar to their famed counterparts. Lest readers be repelled by the apparent novelty of an economic framework for the analysis of crime, let us bear in mind that two founding fathers of criminology, Beccaria and Bentham, also applied an economic calculus to the study of criminal behaviour.

Vincenzo Ruggiero is reader in criminology and social studies, Middlesex University.

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