Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cocaine Capitalism

“Capitalism needs the criminal syndicates and criminal markets… This is the most difficult thing to communicate. People – even people observing organised crime – tend to overlook this, insisting upon a separation between the black market and the legal market. It’s the mentality that leads people in Europe and the USA to think of a mafioso who goes to jail as a mobster, a gangster. But he’s not, he’s a businessman, and his business, the black market, has become the biggest market in the world,” explains Roberto Saviano, a writer specializing in organized crime. “No business in the world is so dynamic, so restlessly innovative, so loyal to the pure free-market spirit as the global cocaine business.”

The drug cartels are not adversaries of global capitalism, nor even pastiches of it; they are integral to – and pioneers of – the free market. They are its role model. “Cocaine,” Saviano concludes, applying the logic of business school, “is a safe asset. Cocaine is an anti-cyclical asset. Cocaine is the asset that fears neither resource shortages nor market inflation.” Of course, cocaine capitalism – as brazenly as any other commodity, possibly more so – has “both feet firmly planted in poverty… and unskilled labour, a sea of interchangeable subjects, that perpetuates a system of exploitation of the many and enrichment of the few”. He continues, “Cocaine becomes a product like gold or oil but more economically potent than gold or oil. With these other commodities, if you don’t have access to mines or wells, it’s hard to break into the market. With cocaine, no. The territory is farmed by desperate peasants, from whose product you can accumulate huge quantities of capital and cash in very little time.” He adds, “If you’re selling diamonds, you have to get them authenticated, licensed – cocaine, no. Whatever you have, whatever the quality, you can sell it immediately. You are in perfect synthesis with the everyday life and ethos of the global markets”

“You can’t understand how the global economy functions if you don’t understand narco-traffic”, he says. A passage in ‘Zero Zero Zero’ Saviano’s latest book  explains why: a transcription of an FBI tape recording of a seasoned Italian mafioso in New York schooling young Mexican footsoldiers in the difference between law and “the rules”. Laws are there to be broken, he urges, but the rules of the organisation are sacrosanct, on pain of death. “The law is supposed to be for everybody,” Saviano tells me, “but the rules are made by the so-called men of honour. This is how narco-traffic explains the world, by embracing all the contradictions of the world. To succeed in narco-traffic, you apply the rules to break the law. And today, any big corporation can only succeed if it adopts the same principle – if its rules demand that it break the law.”