The Transnational-Based Criminal Market Economy

the untouchables

Cosa Nostra, as a state-tied organization, functions on the basis of the revenues collected in the legal and illegal labor market. In a recent study produced by the association SOS Impresa (SOS Enterprise) with data collected by the Italian Ministry of Interior and various other sources (including civic society associations and face-to-face interviews with victims), the revenues of Mafia SPA (Mafia joint-stock company including Cosa Nostra, Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta e Sacra Corona Unita) have been estimated at $135 billion in 2009 (SOS Impresa 2009).

On the basis of these quite old estimations, the revenues and expenses relative only to Cosa Nostra have been re-calculated, assuming a rate of 25 percent of total Mafia SPA revenues. Even though this decision seems excessively arbitrary, the results are consistent with other estimations (see Van Dijk 2007; Asmundo and Lisciandra 2008; La Spina 2008) but updated to an increase in the financial power of the ‘Ndrangheta. Here, it is important to remember that, after the ‘Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra is substantially more powerful than the Sacra Corona Unita, with presumably a similar business volume of the Camorra.

However, the estimations provided by SOS Impresa take into account only the actual money proved to be directly linked to these Mafia organizations. Needless to say, the real business volume of Cosa Nostra is much higher in the ‘integrated transnational criminal system’ (see Scarpinato 2016) including now several legal activities in the financial sector with national and international company acquisitions and participation in multinationals. In fact, put simply no country of the world is immune to the business of Cosa Nostra (DNA 2008), but also no sector of the economy can be excluded. Got the message?????

Since the beginning of the 1960s a financialization of the business of Cosa Nostra has, in fact, taken place (Santino 1988). In the legal labor market, the businesses of Cosa Nostra range, for example, from the establishment of shops, restaurants, small and medium size enterprises to significant shares in nationals and foreign banks, in large multinationals, and in pension funds. In the illegal (unofficial) labor market, the businesses in which Cosa Nostra is involved in range, by contrast, from the trafficking of drugs, weapons, nuclear material, human beings to extortions, money-laundering, contraband, racket, usury, plundering activities, thefts, robberies, frauds, agromafia, gambling, ecomafias, just to quote few but notable examples.

As shown in Table 1, if all these activities are taken into account, in 2009 the revenues of Cosa Nostra were equal to Euros 33.75 billion, among which Euros 19.5 billion in net profits. Illegal traffics, drug smuggling, weapons, entrepreneurial activities, racket, usury, calls for tenders ecomafias and agromafias represent, in this context, the main sources of income. Here, important to note is that profits from ‘Games and Gambling’ are underestimated due to the recent law reform, as underestimated are the financial profits due to international money-laundering activities linked to a financial institutionalization in the global market.

Table 1. Balance of Payments Cosa Nostra (2009) billion euros*
Revenues Expenditures
Illegal Traffics 7.445 Wages 1.17
Drug smuggling 15 Bosses 0.6
Human trafficking 0.21 Affiliates 0.45
Weapons and other trafficking 1.45 Prisoners 0.09
Contraband 0.3 Fugitives 0.3
2.68 Logistics 0.45
Racket 2.25 Dens 0.1
Usury 3.75 Networks 0.1
Plundering activities 0.1125 Weapons 0.25
Thefts, robberies, frauds 1 Corruption activities 2.75
Imprenditorial activities 2.77 Corrupted people 0.95
Calls for tenders and supplies 1.625 Consultants and experts 0.05
Agromafia 1.875 Supporters 1.75
Games and gambling** 0.625 Legal expenditures 0.8 0.8
Forgeries 0.625 Investments 26
Unauthorized building 0.5 Money-laundering 19.5
Ecomafias 4 7.2 Funds, surplus 6.5
Prostitution 0.15
Financial profits*** 0.1875 Liabilities 14.2925 14.2925
Total 33.797 Total 19.5075
Source: Busá and La Rocca 2008; Author’s estimantions and calculations
*Calculation based on 25 percent of total Mafia SPA revenues and expenditures
** Profits from Games and Gambling are underestimated due to the recent law reforms
*** Financial profits are underestimated due to money-laundering and increase in financial institutionalization


If the Varieties of Capitalism (VoC) approach (Hall and Soskice 2001) is applied to the case of Cosa Nostra, it could be affirmed that a ‘transnational-based criminal market economy’ has been developed during the years. This particular capitalist model is classed as transnational criminal in nature because revenues primarily stem from national as well as transnational criminal activities. It is, however, still a market economy since based on market freedom, even though the prices of products are artificially altered.

The form of capitalist model developed by Cosa Nostra has also important repercussions in terms of social structures and social mobility. Through its criminal activities Cosa Nostra has not only succeeded to ensure its survival, but it has also altered the existing social structure and patterns of social mobility, favoring at the highest levels of MassoMafia the advancement of their members, families and affiliates (see, for instance, Morselli 2003). For example, through the illegal acquisition of capital and property in national and transnational markets, and with its connections with the ‘integrated criminal system’ (Scarpinato 2016), Cosa Nostra has succeeded to ensure a wealthy life-style for their members and children, even though this has not always been openly displayed so as not to contradict the ‘code of humility’ present in the Mafia society.

In terms of Erikson and Goldthorpe’s (1992) social class schema, a form of ‘transnational rentier-capitalism’ has permitted some members of Cosa Nostra and their children to conduct an unprecedented jump in the social class. From agricultural or unskilled workers they have turned into higher-grade professionals, administrators, officials, and managers. Some of them have also escaped the necessity to work, living from the profits of investments. If the fact is considered that almost 80 percent of variability of income in the world can be explained by the location of birth and social class of the individual (Milanovic 2009), the social mobility of some members of Cosa Nostra, most notably Sicilian and Italian YUPPIES and members of Masso Mafias becomes, in this context, an exceptionally remarkable result.

  1. Cosa Nostra (‘Our Thing’): An Introduction
  2. Historical Legacies of Cosa Nostra 
  3. Cosa Nostra’s Political and Governance Mechanisms: National and Transnational Ties 
  4. Cosa Nostra: System of Values and Norms
  5. Cosa Nostra’s System of Taxation and The Transnational Criminal Integrated System
  6. The Political Regime of Cosa Nostra: Between Independentist and Consociational Pressures
  7. The Transnational-Based Criminal Market Economy
  8. Cosa Nostra’s Criminal-Fare Regime 
  9. Cosa Nostra’s Systemic Problems 
  10. The ‘Anti-Mafia’ Organization: A Historical-Institutionalist Approach
  11.  List of Sicilian ‘Noblesse’ (Noble Families) A-Z
  12. Reference List


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s