Dipoppa, G. When Migrants Mobilize Against Exploitation: Evidence from Italian Farmlands. [Working paper] Conditionally Accepted at American Political Science Review

Dipoppa, G. How Criminal Organizations Expand to Strong States: Local Agreements and Migrant Exploitation in Northern Italy. [Paper][Replication][Press: TheLoop] Winner of the 2020 Apsa European Politics Best Paper Award. Accepted at Journal of Politics

Dipoppa, G., Grossman G., and Zonszein, S., Locked Down, Lashing Out: COVID-19 Effects on Asian Hate Crimes in Italy. Journal of Politics [Paper][Replication][Column: Policy Brief

Daniele, G., Dipoppa, G. (2022) Fighting Organized Crime by Targeting their Revenue: Screening, Mafias and Public Funds. Journal of Law, Economics and Organization. [Paper][Replication][Press: Political Violence at a Glance]

Dipoppa, G., Grossman, G. (2020). The Effect of Election Proximity on Government Responsiveness and Citizens’ Participation: Evidence from English Local Elections. Comparative Political Studies, 53(4): 2183-2212. [Paper] [Replication]

Daniele, G., Dipoppa, G. (2017). Mafia, Elections and Violence against Politicians. Journal of Public Economics, 154, 10-33. [Paper] [Press: The Conversation, The Local, The Moderate Voice, La Voce]

Delbono, F., Dipoppa, G., Lambertini, L., Reggiani, C. (2017). A single espresso, please! Rationalizing espresso price dispersion across Italian cities. Journal of Industry, Competition and Trade, 1-14.

Book Project

Migrant Labor Exploitation and Organized Crime Expansion

Over recent decades, rich and high-capacity states have become the target of organized crime infiltration from foreign countries. The United States currently hosts cartels from all over South America; in Canada, Hong-Kongese Triad members have been settling and recreating their activities for decades; similarly, Calabrian ‘Nrdrine now call Germany and Australia home. Is the presence of these groups temporary, or are we observing the start of a permanent expansion? This book provides an account of where and how organized crime is expanding with a focus on European countries. Leveraging police records, journalistic investigations and archival material, I paint a picture of the expansion of criminal groups across Europe, assessing which countries are infiltrated and for how long. My goal is to explain how expansion can take place and become permanent precisely in states with the highest capacity to detect and repress these groups. The book will be explicitly comparative, devoting significant coverage to contrasting cases of expansion across European states. My argument is articulated in three main themes.

The first is the logic of organized crime expansion: I propose a distinction between models of expansion that are consumption and production based. Consumption-based models view criminal groups as mere consumers of strong-states products – for example, organized crime simply trades illegal goods in richer markets to make higher profits. In this view, criminals carry on limited operation, do not seek to infiltrate the local economy and the institutions, and the expansion is thus temporary and contingent to profits extraction. On the contrary, production models predict that criminal organizations will go beyond illegal trade and seek opportunities to infiltrate the local economy and the institutions. In this model, organized crime exports its business model to strong states, reproducing their operations and production process as a firm would do opening a foreign outpost. In this case, the move of criminal groups is, or seeks to be, permanent. Existing models of expansion explain why criminal groups want to move to strong states, but strong capacity also means a higher likelihood of detection and repression: how do criminal groups escape strong state prosecution?

The second theme provides an answer to the question raised by the first by examining the dimensions of strong states that might generate a demand for organized crime services. I identify one characteristic as particularly important: in high-capacity states, rules violation is costly. Those who break the rules run a high risk of denunciation and prosecution. While strong states reduce the incentive to engage in illegal behavior, they never eliminate them completely, and in these contexts, the capacity to enforce illegal contracts – a task organized crime specializes in – proves to be particularly valuable. Rule enforcement, while defining states as high capacity, can thus also generate a demand for organized crime services. It remains unclear, however, how this service provision can take place when criminal groups have just relocated and lack the resources necessary for acting as mafias – a reputation as a credible threat, networks of informants and contacts in the institutions. How do criminal groups recreate these resources in new areas of expansion?

The third part of my argument discusses which varieties of capitalism might favor organized crime expansion by examining patterns of criminal groups expansion across Europe. A common pattern is that organized crime move coincided with the move of migrants from the same area of origin as criminal groups.  Migrants from mafia-affected areas are particularly exposed to criminal groups’ control: first, they are aware of criminal groups’ reputation for violence, and might have family members back home who criminals can target for retaliatory purposes; second, they have difficulties entering the new labor market, either because of typical frictions migrants face in immigration countries, or because they are illegal. These features place criminal groups in an ideal position to control the labor of migrants and provide local actors in the new area of expansion with controllable illegal workforce. This service provision allows criminals to recreate the resources essential to the reproduction of their business model in a new country, by recreating networks with important local actors and a reputation for violence. 

I identify two aspects of capitalistic strong states that might be determinant in predicting organized crime expansion. First, stricter employment rules characterizing coordinated market economies might increase the importance of enforcing illegal labor contracts, giving a more prominent role to criminal organizations. Second, restrictive immigration policies that prevent migrants from finding legal employment might increase the importance of criminal groups acting as intermediaries and favor their expansion. 

My manuscript explores how this logic operated in the context of three cases of production-based mafia expansion in Europe: the move of mafias to the North of Italy and to Germany and the move of Nigerian mafias into Italy. The first two cases are selected because they are the longest-standing cases of organized crime infiltration in Europe, as the arrival of criminal groups to these areas dates back to at least the 1970s. I use comparative analysis both to identify differences between regions with high and low levels of mafia infiltration within Italy and Germany, and to understand differences across these two countries which might shed light on the mechanism of expansion. I leverage a third, more recent case – the move of Nigerian mafias to Italy-  to further illuminate the logic of expansion when its protagonist is a criminal group operating differently from Italian criminal organizations.

This book is motivated by a question of public interest. Many wonder whether the multiplication of news describing organized crime presence in rich and high-capacity states is the symptom of a short-term fallacy in law enforcement or of a deeper disease. Other scholarly work has investigated the origin of criminal groups, vastly attributing it to state weakness (Gambetta, 1993; Hill, 2003), an explanation which cannot account for the diffusion of organized crime to strong states. One book that focuses specifically on organized crime expansion is Varese (2011), which proposes that the provision of private protection substituting for state weakness, or temporary weakness, explains expansion. I propose a different model of expansion that explains how criminal organizations can expand in the context of strong states. I use a mix of data sources and social scientific methods while also targeting a broader audience.

Chapter outline

Ch 1: Introduction

I motivate my question and briefly outline my argument that organized crime expands to strong states leveraging agreements with local business entrepreneurs and politicians in the new territory by providing them with controllable illegal resources. I summarize the evidence the book provides in line with this argument and the methods used to assess it.

Ch 2: Patterns of organized crime expansion in Europe

In this chapter I paint a descriptive picture of the expansion of criminal organizations across Europe. Leveraging questionnaires the Europol sent to police departments in each EU country, as well as journalistic and judiciary evidence, I delineate which states are currently infiltrated by criminal groups, and for how long. I use this evidence to categorize organized crime expansion as consumption or production based. Mapping organized crime presence highlights two patterns: first, criminal groups have exported their business model into several high-capacity states in Europe. Second, there is an overlap between the expansion of mafias’ business model and migration fluxes from organized crime affected countries.

Chapter 3: The logic of organized crime expansion in strong states

Different models of expansion can explain the move of criminal groups to other states. I start this chapter by discussing different models of expansion, proposing a taxonomy that distinguishes between consumption and production-based theories. These models face some limitations when explaining expansion to strong states. I discuss which characteristics of high-state capacity might generate a demand for organized crime services. I develop a theory of expansion that allows overcoming these limitations.

Chapter 4: The expansion of ‘Ndrangheta to Germany

I consider the case of the move of the ‘Ndrangheta to Germany, a place where criminal organizations from Italy are present since the 1970s. The concurrent move of Calabrian mafias and migrants from the same origin enabled newly arrived mafia member to engage in businesses with local economic actors. I analyze judicial documents and journalistic reports to reconstruct the history of expansion into Germany and discuss how it maps to different theories of expansion.

Chapter 5: The expansion of Southern Italian mafias to Northern Italy

A possible explanation for criminal expansion is that criminal organizations exploit gaps in law enforcement in countries not yet affected by organized crime, and thus under-provided with detection and repression tools to fight against these groups. Considering a case in which criminal groups moved within the same country, with the same institutions to fight mafias developed in the south also present in the north, allows to account for this possibility which cannot be excluded in the previous case. Southern Italian mafias have been present in the north of Italy since the 1960s and are currently heavily entrenched in the economics and politics of northern Italy. I study how this move took place using evidence from primary sources and micro-level data.

Chapter 6: The expansion of Nigerian mafias to Italy

The last case study is the analysis of a case in progress. In the last ten years Nigerian Mafias have started a process of expansion into Italy. Their method of expansion has relied on agreements with Italian mafias for the smuggling and control of migrants to be employed in illegal (prostitution) and legal markets (agriculture, constructions). While more recent than the other two examples of expansion, the move of Nigerian mafias presents several similarities to the other cases, suggesting it might predate a long-term expansion.

Chapter 7: Conclusions

In the conclusions, I discuss whether the theory I propose is likely to explain other cases of expansion across other countries outside of Europe. I then consider the implications of the findings in this book for the conceptualization of criminal organizations, for coordinated market economies and for immigration policy.

Working papers

Daniele, G., Dipoppa, G., Pulejo, M., Attacking Women or their Policies? Understanding Violence against Women in Politics. [Working paper][Press: VoxEU] Revise and Resubmit at American Journal of Political Science

Dipoppa, G., Gulzar, S., No Smoke Without a Fire: Bureaucratic Incentives, Crop Burning, and Pollution in South Asia. Revise and Resubmit at Nature [Working paper]

Carillo, M., Dipoppa, G., Satyanath, S., Fascist Ideology and Migrant Exploitation. [Working paper]
Winner of the 2022 Apsa McGillivray Best Paper Award in Political Economy