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Fighting organized crime is in the best interests of everybody and after all, for politicians, less crime will make your electorate happier.

On the other hand, countries have been wildly unsuccessful in getting rid of it. For example, see the FBI report on Italian organized crime:

We estimate the four groups have approximately 25,000 members total, with 250,000 affiliates worldwide. There are more than 3,000 members and affiliates in the U.S., scattered mostly throughout the major cities in the Northeast, the Midwest, California, and the South. Their largest presence centers around New York, southern New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

Given that we have been battling organized crime for almost 100 years now, it seems odd that crime is prospering instead of shrinking.

I understand that there are law enforcement issues, that it is a tough job, etc. But this question is not about that.

Is there a lack of political efficacy - if not political will - in solving this issue once and for all? What are the real challenges politicians face? Fear of retribution? Corruption? Plain incompetence?

What is (politically) preventing this issue from being solved?

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It depends on the country:

Structural problems:

  • In Russia, on the local level organized crime is strongly reputed to be linked with both government in general and law enforcement in particular. Happens on federal level as well. Given russia's "freedom of speech", most of the evidence is individual blogs, but everyone knows plenty of examples. Kind of hard for the government to fight itself.

  • In many countries, there's corruption. Cops/prosecutors/politicians are paid to look the other way.

  • Economics makes organized crime almost inevitable in any country not built on fully libertarian principles. Anytime you prohibit some product or activity or service legally which has a demand in society, you create an ecological niche for organized crime to cater to that demand.

    Witness Prohibition in USA - that was when Mafia in US became powerful, running alcohol.

Lack of political will:

  • Frequently, organized crime doesn't negatively affect many civilians. Aside from rare cases of collateral damage, most of the violence is within the criminal world [citation needed].

    As such, people are theoretically against organized crime as a concept, but practically won't vote against a politician they like otherwise merely because of lack of success in eliminating organized crime. Which means no politician will ever put practical solutions on top of their priority list aside from making good soundbites.

Economic costs:

  • Given the somewhat low impact on regular citizens, the costs of fighting organized crime are not cheap enough to justify investing as much money as required.

Practical difficulties:

  • People are afraid to go against organized crime. IIRC, in Italy, there were many cases of mafia assassinating law enforcement and politicians opposing them a while back.

  • Due to corruption, law enforcement may experience political pressure to back off

  • People are afraid to give information on organized crime to authorities due to fear of retribution, both as witnesses and as arrestees (and low-income people also face the backwards carrot pressure - at least with Italian mafia in USA - that if you get caught and don't snitch, the mafia will take care of your family).

  • Top level criminals are very successful at arranging things to be plausibly deniable. The fact that Al Capone was nabbed on tax evasion isn't a testament to how good IRS agents are/were - it's a testament to how excellent Capone was at avoiding being charged with any other of the numerous serious crimes he committed.

  • Low level criminals are interchangeable cogs, and in low income societies there are always enough to take place in the organization after someone else gets taken out of the game by law enforcement.

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