Conceptualizing Organized Crime: A transaction cost approach to make-or-buy decisions and corruption

This chapter aims at theoretically addressing the role played by criminal organizations in fostering and/or governing corrupt exchanges. Apart from some noteworthy exceptions, organized crime remains a neglected concept in the study of political corruption. In order to fill this gap, the paper illustrates some empirical and methodological issues in the existing definitions of organized crime and political corruption. Empirically, there is in fact a difference between groups aiming at simply producing illegality through criminal transactions (such as corrupt exchanges), from groups seeking to govern the same transactions and the whole market through the provision of protection to both criminal and legal actors. Therefore, the paper presents an alternative conceptualization of the problem, departing from the “make-or-buy” decision that all corruption actors have to make in relation with protection. Drawn on transaction costs theory, the paper analyses the conditions under which some rudimentary hierarchical structure can govern corrupt transactions, addressing also the effect of temporality and path dependence upon stationary or predatory types of organized crime. On the theoretical side, the paper adds to the existing literature on political corruption, by introducing and studying the organization and governance of corrupt exchanges. On the empirical side, the conceptualization proposed in this paper has informed other empirical parts of the project, in particular, the research activities of WP9 (Organized crime and impact on vulnerable groups). The theoretical results of this paper are in fact used to disentangle empirically the mechanisms that link together organized crime with political corruption.

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