Ten Differences Between the State and the Mafia


Column by Jakub Bozydar Wisniewski.

Exclusive to STR

1. The state is the largest apparatus of violence, aggression, and coercion within a given territory. The mafia is composed of all the smaller ones.

2. The state is the most well-organized apparatus of violence, aggression, and coercion within a given territory. The mafia's inferior organization makes them less influential and their reach more restricted.

3. The state is a monopolistic apparatus of violence, aggression, and coercion, that is, the culmination of the process of eliminative competition between groups of stationary bandits that run protection racket schemes. Mafias are the losers in this competition, formally outlawed by the winner and relegated to the black market.

4. The state possesses a powerful apparatus of self-aggrandizing propaganda. The mafia does not, hence its bad reputation.

5. The state is the apparatus of violence, aggression, and coercion that possesses the largest clientele within a given territory. The clientele of the mafia is quite small in comparison.

6. The state is usually an open-access apparatus of violence, aggression, and coercion. The mafia typically has a much more closed and rigid structure.

7. Mafias, due to their limited influence and reach, do not actively seek to turn all the inhabitants of a given territory into their clients. States do.

8. Mafias, due to their limited influence and reach, do not actively seek to control and regularly expropriate all the inhabitants of a given territory. States do.

9. Mafias are usually pragmatic in their orientation--they employ violence, aggression, and coercion to obtain tangible goods and services. States, on the other hand, are more often than not motivated by ideology--they employ violence, aggression, and coercion out of pure lust for power.

10. The mafia uses physical intimidation. The state uses physical, intellectual, and moral intimidation. The mafia injures its victims. The state injures and insults its victims. Paraphrasing Lysander Spooner, the mafia, unlike the state, does not, in addition to robbing its victims, attempt to make them either its dupes or its slaves.

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Jakub Bozydar Wisniewski's picture
Columns on STR: 12

Jakub Bozydar Wisniewski is a libertarian theorist and a researcher in the tradition of the Austrian School of Economics. He has been a fellow at the Institute for Humane Studies and at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He has published peer-reviewed articles in philosophy, economics, and political economy in, among others, "Independent Review", "Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics", "New Perspectives on Political Economy", "Journal of Prices & Markets", "Libertarian Papers", and "Reason Papers". Visit his blog at jakubw.com


Jim Davies's picture

You've really done your homework here, Jakub. I never found more than one or two differences between the two kinds of extortion racket.
Even so, might there be an eleventh difference? - The Mafia owns only some cops and judges, some of the guns, and none of the prisons; whereas the State lays claim to them all.

Samarami's picture

Also, "organized crime" can generally exist only where psychotic predators grouped into "states" have successfully established monopolies by prohibiting substances and/or activities that could be voluntarily exchanged in the marketplace. "Legalize" (as though state gangsters had a "right to" make "illegal") prostitution, gambling, drug sales, etc.; and "deregulate" (as if those shysters had a "right" to "regulate" in a free market) banking, trucking, trash hauling, etc etc etc -- and the "Mafia" would be out of business.

"Mafia" type organizations are strictly the product of state parasites, all of whom feed from the same nose bag.


Paul's picture

As Proudhon wrote,
"To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."

I wrote an article a while back distinguishing real protection from a protection racket: