In an economic crisis, citizens look to the stalwarts of their economy for a little reassurance. But in Italy, the size and resiliency of a famous home-grown business may or may not be so encouraging. That business, as you may have guessed, is organized crime.
A new report from the industry group Conferescenti estimates that the mafia’s combined revenues of 130 billion euros ($163 billion) for 2008 make it the largest business in Italy, comprising a whopping 6 percent of the economy.
Favorite mafia activities such as drug trafficking, loan sharking, and extortion still make up the bulk of the profits (doing construction in Naples? That’ll be 10,000 euros a month to make sure no “accidents” happen), but like any shrewd business, the mafia has branched out. The illegal disposal of waste is second only to the drug business as a money-earner, and even legitimate business such as tourism, restaurants, and food production are now on the books.
The concern is that a worsening economy could drive businesses further into the mafia’s hands. A tighter credit environment means businesses may turn increasingly toward organized crime for loans, which it is all too glad to provide, albeit on very severe terms. It may be a comfort to know someone will support your business during hard times, but the consequences for the community are not as soothing.