AN205 Marks, a legendary figure in the annals of British crime, reckons that his cannabis smuggling in the 1980s ran to hundreds of tons.

Marks, a legendary figure in the annals of British crime, reckons that his cannabis smuggling in the 1980s ran to hundreds of tons.

“That’s a lot of trust,” I replied.

Marks was my last interview after a year and a half traveling several of the world’s continents doing research for this book. I grew up on gangster movies, the Godfather books, and sensationalist media accounts of triad, mafia, cartel, and criminal gang violence. But in my research, I meet hundreds of people who make a living by bending the laws, and I know hundreds more who wander across the lines of legality with a vague sense of entitlement (“What, copying this CD is wrong?”). I have encountered very few acts of violence. Granted, I have read the accounts of Pablo Escobar. His penchant for “violence as a business” is as bad as anything I have seen in war. Granted, I have chronicled shoot-outs like the one between gangsters and police over Patagonian Toothfish smuggling. But the people I have seen die due to the structural violence of inequality embedded in a world of unequal legal business institutions is far worse. Frankly, I have found this research on the world of the “outlaw” a much needed respite from the raw world of violence I have encountered in my years of work in warzones.

Several years and thousands of field hours ago, I wrote this in one of my first theoretical explorations of “shadow powers”:
One of the more interesting questions regarding these vast economic networks is how such massive amounts of goods and money, which follow such a complex set of exchange routes and political associations, flow as smoothly as they do. In plain words: Savimbi’s gems get to Antwerp, Belgium, and then onto rings on our global fingers without a great deal more, and sometimes less, murder and mayhem than state-based transactions do. The billions that flow through the informal banks of Asia function quite a bit like state-supported banks in that their customers don’t usually lose their money. In a nutshell, the system works. But how is another matter?

One of the answers to the question of how this vast international extra-state networks operate as coherently as they do is that people in these systems generally “trust” that the transaction will occur as predicted, and that they will remain
safe (Gambetta, 1988). The fact that large-scale massacres, wars, and trails of dead bodies take place with far less regularity within these shadow networks than in and among states’ wars attests to the fact that the systems do work. This is no mean  feat when we consider we are talking of millions of people exchanging billions of dollars worth of goods and services. Ernest Gellner (1988:147) provides an interesting take:

The Hobbesian problem arises from the assumption that anarchy and absence of enforcement leads to distrust and social disintegration . . . but there is a certain amount of interesting empirical evidence which points the other way. The paradox is: it is precisely anarchy that engenders trust or, if you want to use another name, which engenders social cohesion.