Organized Crime v. Government: What’s The Difference?

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Posted: Mar 03, 2020 9:15 AM
Organized Crime v. Government: What’s The Difference?

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

For many years I would pose the following question to my students – sometimes on exams:

"What is the essential difference between criminal organizations and official governments?”

The answer that was not allowed was “organized criminals violate the law more frequently than government officials.” That is not necessarily true, but more importantly, it is simply because government is able to label actions as criminal or non-criminal. I made it clear that I was seeking a deeper answer.

Here were the most popular answers (I kid you not!):

1.  Organized crime makes money from gambling and drugs.

2.  Organized crime forces you to pay for “protection” (at the price they set) whether you want the protection at that price or not.

3. Organized crime will initiate force to get you to do things they want you to do.

4.  Organized crime maims and kills people.

Of course both the U.S. and organized crime engage in all four of the above choices. Number 4 is the worst answer – communist governments murdered about 100 million people in the 20th century. So murders by governments swamp murders by organized crime. On the other hand, organized crime is perfectly moral if, for example, the “crime” is an organized attempt to stop a government that is committing genocide.

Among my favorite answers is that organized crime is better organized, more efficient, and more effective than governments. That’s a clever answer, but the ability of communist leaders to kill 100 million civilians and still be popular enough to dominate the Democratic party in the U.S. indicates how effective government leaders can be. Apparently people’s greed to confiscate wealth from those who create the wealth is a powerful force. Note that the enthusiasm of Sander’s supporters hoping to steal the wealth of others rivals the enthusiasm of Trump’s supporters hoping to retain the wealth they create.

Some students thought seriously about the question and began to see insights into the extent to which force is initiated in society by governments, criminal organizations and ourselves. Other students developed insights into the key distinctions between the initiation of force and a forceful response to force.

I do not think there is any overall and perfect distinction between government and organized crime, but here is the answer that I suggested: government is the visible organization that systematically initiates force. Unlike criminals, most police and other government officials openly reveal their identities and their locations. For example, if one goes into a new jurisdiction, the courts, town halls, office buildings and police stations of the government will be clearly labeled – not hidden. Government is the “above the table” organization while crime syndicates are the “below the table” organizations

One unfamiliar with modern academia might think that this topic would raise issues regarding whether criminal syndicates or governments have the moral high ground. But the left intelligentsia has convinced the youth that there is no such thing as right and wrong – there is simply differences of opinion. But of course this does not apply when it is the liberals who are the victims. Conservatives and others who disagree with the intelligentsia are proclaimed to be evil by the left and are attacked.

In the last decade of my career as a professor I knew that I was – very literally – just one word away from being eviscerated by the leftists who controlled the campus. And I knew that it was not necessary for me to actually say one of the forbidden words – all that needed to happen was for me to have been accused of saying a forbidden word. So attempting to have a thoughtful discussion of the merits of conservative positions was inviting false accusations of unforgivable speech. Criticize the left on campus and they will accuse you of racism, homophobia, etc. whether it is true or not.

In an open letter published in response to Trump’s election many members of the faculty of Lafayette College (where I served for 25 years as a Professor of Finance) wrote [1]:

“…the election of Donald Trump [means] …that our country now faces an unprecedented threat, and that without organized collaboration and resistance this election may lead America toward the dawn of a dangerous and institutionalized form of reactionary authoritarianism.”

Imagine what would have happened to professors writing the same material about Barack Obama! Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is true for organized crime, government, and academic institutions.

[1] see  https://www.lafayettestudentnews.com/blog/2016/11/18/an-open-letter-from-the-faculty-to-lafayette/   accessed February 2020