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Organized Crime: Less Than Meets the Eye

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“Less here than meets the eye,” a Venusian documentary maker calling home might say. Books, films, and mass media portray organized crime as larger than life, a fearsome monster among us, an awesome money- making machine. Reality is different. Organized crime organizations are life-size, understandable outgrowths of local cultures, political systems, and markets. In some times and places, they control markets and peoples’ lives, just as state institutions do in other times and places, but that too is understandable and can be explained. Organized crime organizations are not enormously profitable. Frightening, malevolent, and lethal, sometimes yes. Practically useful to ordinary law-abiding people, sometimes also yes. Economically important in any larger scheme of things, almost never.

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