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Cocaine Capitalism

from a review by Ed Vulliamy of Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano:

The realisation that cocaine capitalism is central to our economic universe made Escobar the Copernicus of organised crime, argues Saviano, adding: “No business in the world is so dynamic, so restlessly innovative, so loyal to the pure free-market spirit as the global cocaine business.”


“Capitalism,” says Saviano, “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.”


Narco cartels like Guzman’s 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.

We hear much these days about the pros and cons of legalising drugs, but very little about narco-traffic as political economy. Now, Saviano articulates and demonstrates what many of us who write about mafia have been trying for years to shout from rooftops, only none of us climbed high enough, cried as loud, or crystallised it like he does. Here it is, the lie of any dividing line between legal and illegal. Here it is, laid bare: cartel as corporation, corporation as cartel; cocaine as pure capitalism, capitalism as cocaine, known in its purest form as zero-zero-zero – a wry reference to the name of the best grade of flour, ideal for pasta.

read more here in today’s Guardian


  1. Peretz
    December 27, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    The narco-trafic will drop if coins and paper money disappeared. It is possible if every people will earn money and purchase anything with credit cards instead of them. It will be easy now because new machines will be able to be used for very small sum, as it is beginning to do.

  2. December 27, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Trying to regulate the illegal drug market is akin to trying to regulate financial markets:
    The writing of legislation and enforcement is controlled by people profiting from operations in both markets.
    Why would they shoot themselves in the foot?

  3. Michael Kowalik
    December 27, 2015 at 10:11 pm

    The illegal import of narcotics (or any contraband) reduces the domestic money supply by simultaneously illegally exporting cash to the foreign drug manufacturers. When something is smuggled out it generally stays out permanently, for fear of confiscation. This is greatly assisted by policing and forfeiture of narcotics and associated property. Drug trafficking, being a black economy, does not figure on the sovereign balance sheet. This of course would not be possible if narcotics were legalised. The balance of trade would then have to show a current account deficit equivalent to the amount of drug money (legitimately) exported. Money that is legitimately exported can be legitimately imported back into the economy. In a domestic sense the consumption of illegal narcotics amounts to burning money. They vanish from the economy and therefore the government or banks can invisibly print that much more without causing inflation. It may be argued that the narco economy in the first word is a mechanism of dollarization of the emerging economies.

  4. Blissex
    December 28, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    That’s not entirely a novelty: it is well known at least among sociologists and political scientists that in the USA itself organized crime conglomerates (aka “families”, “gangs”) account for 15% of the USA economy, and they have their platoons of K-street lobbyists and “sponsor” their own congressional delegations, just like other big business interests, for example Wall Street.

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