Sunday, September 15, 2013

Organized Crime

I have a problem in my {fantasy} world. Nothing is illegal. OK - that’s an exaggeration, but certainly not a lot of things. Sure, murder and theft are illegal. But drugs are legal. In some cities, you need to have a pharmacist’s license from the druggists’ guild, but other than that, anything goes. Prostitution is legal in most cities. Gambling - legal. Drinking age - Can you hold the stein? See, nothing’s illegal. Why is this a problem? Well, because I want organized criminals. I grew up in a Sicilian neighborhood in Chicago - Yeah, that one! We had organized crime. They were great! They kept the gangs out. Now they’re all politicians. Guess what - That really makes sense! So what do I do in my fantasy world? Well, I start with smuggling. Since there really are no goods that aren’t allowed, then smuggling is just about getting past the customs officials without paying tariff. Since tariffs can be as high as 20%, this can still be a good business. What else? Well, the prostitutes still typically have pimps. Without them the girls are too much at risk, so networks of pimps make sense. So far this is pretty small potatoes. The big money is in the protection rackets. Here’s the business model: Guy walks into your store and says, “You have a lot of nice things here. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to them.” Then the store owner hands over a percentage of his perceived sales and the hood goes down the street to collect at the next place. But here’s the thing - The organized criminals actually protect your place. This is their neighborhood. Nobody steals stuff from you in their neighborhood. Even the pickpockets better know to stay out of their neighborhood or they may be sleeping with the fishes. You see my organized criminals - they’re family men. They want their kids to live in safe neighborhoods - neighborhoods made safe by the local boss. In one city, this goes so far that there are no police. The city guard has been completely replaced by the crime families. There’s a lot of back story to how this came to be - a big war, lots of soldiers needed, deals made, etc. So let’s rethink the protection money: insurance and taxes. We may pay insurance and taxes in the modern age, but in these fantasy settings, the same things are being provided by the crime families. If someone steals from you, you tell the local boss who hunts the guy down and roughs him up. Next thing you know, someone returns your stolen goods. It’s better than insurance, because the criminal is no where near as evil as a modern insurance company. You pay taxes to make sure the police patrol your streets. They pay the mob boss to make sure his thugs patrol their streets. What if the local well goes bad? Tell the mob boss, he’ll take care of it. The really nice thing about this is that you don’t have to worry about some written laws. Say your 19yo daughter decides to run off with some loser. The police won’t help you, but the mob boss will. These guys actually believe in customer service. OK, so the thug collecting is probably about as likable as an IRS agent, but still, you’re even up there. Look, my world has cities with city guards. In one city, the guards are controlled by the local noble families who once owned the lands that have become the neighborhoods. Those guards brawl with each other more than the crime families do. In some cities, the guards are even good at their jobs, but they are constrained by the laws, and they still cost you in taxes. You see, here’s where I tie organized crime to politicians. Both get paid the same way - by taking money out of the pockets of the producers. Now what they do needs to get done, otherwise there would be chaos and anarchy. But who do you trust? The local mob boss who’s kids are playing in the street with yours, or the politician who’s never worked a day in his life. I’ve lived under both, and I can tell you, I don’t trust politicians.

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