Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Mafia Modernizes

When the US sent billions in aid to post-WW II Europe under the Marshall Plan and other programs they also sent along a cadre of gung-ho capitalists to help spend it. These men spread the gospel of what was called "productivism" or "Fordism," the belief that by raising productivity capitalist countries could make workers richer while simultaneously raising profits for investors. It isn't a zero-sum game, they kept saying; by working together we can all benefit. (Which in the 1950s and 1960s was true.)

They had a lot of influence, but not necessarily in the places they hoped:
The shift from the old assumptions about limited resources to the new thinking based on expanding opportunities occurred in even the most unexpected corners of the European economy. One was Sicily, where the Mafia dominated much business. Sicily was poor, and Mafia economic thinking centered on scarcity. The organization's aim was to squeeze the greatest possible benefits out of its victims rather than to increase total wealth, and one mechanism for doing this was water. Control of wells and springs allowed powerful Sicilians to extort money from peasants who needed to irrigate arid land, so the Mafia opposed projects might might have increased the total water supply in any area. After the war, though, a new generation of American mafiosi arrived. These men did not come under the aegis of the European Reconstruction Agency, but were sent by the Justice Department, which selected particularly dynamic entrepreneurs from Chicago or New York for deportation back to their country of origin. Like the smooth Harvard graduates who gathered in Rome, the American mafiosi tried to explain the virtues of growth to the Italians. They did not oppose irrigation projects. On the contrary, they favored the construction of large dams. In this way everyone could benefit from a new opportunity — though the Mafia, which took big rake-offs from construction contracts, benefited more than most.
– Richard Vinen, A History in Fragments, p. 292


Shadow said...

Yeah, but do that have family leave and child care?

G. Verloren said...


That got a laugh at me, but in all seriousness, it's worth nothing Italians have historically been wildly sexist, particularly in rural areas like the south.

I knew an old Sicilian-American woman born in 1914 who lived her entire life without ever driving a car, because she was never allowed to. She would tell stories about the absurd degrees of misogyny she dealt with growing up - about how it's not just uncommon for Italian men to learn to cook, it's actively shunned as being a shameful and "unmanly" thing; about how she was taught from an early age that her only value in life would be to be someone's wife and do the cooking and cleaning for her husband; about how her own father refused to ever eat her cooking purely because it "wasn't her place" to cook for him, and he would instead demand that anything he ate be made by her mother, even if she was sick in bed.