Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review - McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld

McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld
by Misha Glenny
(Knopf, $27.95)

Times have never been better for criminal entrepreneurs, says journalist Misha Glenny. Car theft is Europe’s fastest-growing industry. Female sex slaves have become “an attractive entry-level commodity” for bad guys the world over. The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up black-market opportunities of all kinds. “A new class of capitalists,” writes Glenny, “exploited the vacuum of power by seizing whole industries and raiding the state coffers” in Russia and its former satellites. Their money poured outward, seeking safe havens, and their skills in surveillance, smuggling, and murder also found wider application. Thanks to a big assist from the liberalization of Western financial and commodities markets, says Glenny, shadow markets now account for 15 percent to 20 percent of the world’s economic output.

Glenny’s “immensely informative and more than slightly scary” new book charges headlong into countless global criminal industries, said Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post. But the “big five,” revenue-wise, are narcotics, diamonds, cigarettes, energy products, and arms. Most frightening, perhaps, is that “the huge military arsenal of the former Soviet Union—including materials used in nuclear weapons—is at play in the shadow market” and available in an unprecedented way to rogue states and terrorists. Even so, Glenny, who long covered the Balkans for the BBC, is just as concerned by the “conscience-free consumerism” he believes fuels most international crime, said Laura Miller in Ordinary Western Europeans, he tells us, “spend an ever-burgeoning amount of time and money” sleeping with entrapped prostitutes, smoking tax-free contraband cigarettes, and “stuffing their gullets” with black-market caviar. Runaway global crime, in other words, threatens not just social stability but “our collective humanity.”

Glenny doesn’t sound alarms indiscriminately, said William Grimes in The New York Times. “Oddly enough,” he “puts in a good word for snakeheads”—the Chinese agents who charge a fortune to illegally smuggle peasants into the West’s wealthier labor markets. He wants the West to adopt more rational immigration policies, to stiffen international banking regulations, and to legalize drugs. He’s “wildly ambitious” as a reporter, too, hopping from Nigeria to Israel, from Internet fraud to marijuana farming. “For sheer enterprise, he is hard to beat,” but an effective synthesizer he’s not. “Anything like a clear picture of global crime eludes him.”

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