Friday, October 14, 2011

The Mafia Succession Problem

The Problem
The Mafia is terrible at handling succession.  Because there is no clear way to determine who becomes the new boss and when, nearly every new administration arises out of bloody conflict.  This is bad not only for the mafiosos but for the innocent bystanders who frequently suffer the most when war breaks out in the criminal community.

Steve Martin -- the boss of all bosses

The Backstory
This was first pointed out by wunderkind Attorney General John Kroger in his excellent book "Convictions."  Kroger spent years as a US attorney in New York putting away the mob.  Most of the worst periods in mob history, both for innocents and for mafiosos, were during power vacuums when rival factions were fighting for control.  What the mob needs, he said, is a peaceful answer to the succession problem.

Today there are not only the classic Italian mafias but all kinds of large gangs around the world -- South and Central American drug gangs, warlords in Africa, the Yakuza in Japan, the Triads in China (2.5 mil. members worldwide), tribal leaders in the stans, the mobs of eastern europe and hugely powerful criminal organizations in Russia, often run by oligarchs and politicians.  They all fight violent internal wars over this and the real loser is the society that is forced to tolerate it.  This is a rare situation where helping them helps us too.  I use the Italian Mafia as an example, but it applies equally well to any organized criminal group.

The Solution
Term limits.  If capos are limited to ten years at the head of an organization, and then have the ability to choose their successor, it could allow for a peaceful transition of power.  It is practical, in the mafia's own interest and actually enforceable -- but I'll get to that in a minute.  

I know that it sounds crazy to try and apply a democratic principle like term limits to a criminal organization but it is not without precedent.  In 1931 the five families in New York City, and the outfits in Buffalo and Chicago formed a ruling council known as "The Commission" to run organized crime in the United States as a whole.  It replaced the position of "boss of all bosses" -- essentially a dictatorial government -- with something equivalent to a United Nations.  The Commission has ruled for the last 80 years and is still in power today.  It is both the model and the means for solving the Mafia Succession Problem.

More from "My Blue Heaven" -- Steve Martin's mafia bicycle story (I love this movie)

So first of all, why would the Mafia want to enforce this?  The costs of war within a criminal group are massive -- the losses in soldiers, family loyalty and business alone are unjustifiable.  And that's just what happens internally.  Externally, they are severely weakened and vulnerable to claims on territory and takeovers both by other mafia families and by prosecutors and police.

But imagine a situation where bosses stepped down peacefully.  This would confer numerous advantages beyond just preventing the power struggles (which should be enough.)  

1.  It would attract more soldiers.  With a new boss every ten years, it makes the possibility of becoming a capo reasonable enough that new recruits would believe they had a chance.
2.  The retired bosses become advisors and useful smokescreens for the authorities.  At any time, there are four or five men who could be the boss.
3.  The limits will encourage underbosses to wait their turn rather than murder their capos, sparking these conflicts.

Now, how could the mafia enforce this?  Enforcement is after all the problem with so many dictators around the world who overstay their welcome.  The answer is to use one relic of democracy to create another.  Decide that the Commission has the power to enforce ten year limits within families, and it will be able to.  The prospect of internal war has not proved to be enough of a deterrent.  But if the other four families united against you should you try and usurp power, you wouldn't have a chance.  At the very least the war would be short.  

The Commission has the power to decide conflicts between families; it could be used in exactly the same way to decide conflicts within families.  If a capo is killed, the Commission steps in and chooses a leader.  If a capo tries to stay longer than ten years, the Commission has the power to remove him.  This should be all the easier because preventing a war within one family is in every families' interest.  That kind of conflict, and the innocent bystanders that suffer from it, forces the hand of the authorities to act against all organized crime.

The families should also be required to provide a generous pension to retired bosses.  This will sweeten the deal, encouraging them to follow the rules.  If they don't they get nothing.  The money saved from the absence of frequent internal wars will more than pay for this.

That's how they get you.

During periods in its history the Commission has taken on the role of approving new bosses, but it was never an official part of its work.  That lax attitude toward internal family decisions has allowed the dangerous situation that exists today.

Also it should be noted that the Commission isn't strictly an American development.  Similar groups are believed to be in power in the Yakuza, cartels in the Americas, and the Russian and Ukrainian Mafias, though information in this area is pretty scarce for obvious reasons.


Anonymous said...


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Anonymous said...

IDK why WSC would add this, I mean...... can succession actually be peaceful? What if one underboss expected to become the new capo, but instead the "Commission" decides that he isn't good enough and appoints someone else instead, so the person decides to revolt against the decision?

Also, this would keep all power within a set circle. Since the Commission is made up of established families, people such as women or people outside the original family wouldn't be able to rise up. This would lead to a lack of good candidates.

Anonymous said...

Ok WSC let's stop being weird, let's talk about King George III or smth

Anonymous said...

Indefinite leaders are a very real problem that seems to be reflected in the criminal world even. We need term limits no matter what. It is inevitable for a leader to feel like his organization/country cannot leave without them if they stay in power for too long. More so, it is very dangerous for one person to unite a group alone because when they are not there anymore, disaster strikes.

Anonymous said...

why does WSC choose this ... :|

Anonymous said...

Seems weird! I have no idea why WSC choose this

Anonymous said...

i killed tony soprano

Anonymous said...

Gotti it

Anonymous said...

if i were in the mafia i just wouldn't get killed. like rip to you but im different :/

Anonymous said...

Ok, so WSC is encouraging me to learn about it. WSC is weird and anomalous.

Anonymous said...

right ...

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