Media Briefings

MAFIA PRESENCE REDUCES THE QUALITY OF LOCAL POLITICIANS: Evidence from Italy

  • Published Date: August 2015

The dissolution of a local government in Italy due to Mafia infiltration is followed by a significant upward shift in the educational level of local politicians. That is the central finding of research by Gianmarco Daniele and Benny Geys, published in the August 2015 issue of the Economic Journal. They show that politicians are 18% more educated in the absence of Mafia infiltration, which translates into approximately one more year of education.

Since 1991, the national government in Italy has had the power to dissolve local governments suspected of ties to organised crime. The authors use data from Italian municipalities on 217 dissolutions over the period 1985-2011 to assess how elected politicians’ education levels differ before and after the dissolution.

The authors comment:

‘In areas with active criminal organisations, the average quality of elected politicians is significantly depressed, because they’re faced with bribes and punishments. This makes better (or more highly educated) politicians opt out of a political career, and instead pursue an alternative vocation.’

‘As less educated politicians may not have such an outside option, the presence of active criminal organisations becomes inversely related to elected politicians’ ability.’

More…

· Italian law no. 164/1991 allows for the dissolution of local governments for suspected ties between the Mafia and politicians.

· Following government dissolution (and elimination of Mafia connections), the education level of mayors (‘Sindaco’) and aldermen (‘Assessore’) increases by approximately 18%.

· Improved law enforcement can affect criminal organisations’ political (and thereby economic) consequences.

While exact estimates are notoriously difficult to provide, it has long been known that the activities of organised criminal organisations can have substantial economic, financial and social repercussions. For example, in a recent report requested by the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering (CRIM), the minimum direct economic costs of organised crime within the EU are estimated to significantly surpass €100 billion – which does not even include the costs of responding to organised crime.

But the consequences of organised crime are not constrained to economic, financial and social outcomes. This study argues that in areas with active criminal organisations, the average quality of elected politicians is significantly depressed.

The reason lies in the possibility for politicians in such settings to be faced with bribes and punishments. The latter especially makes better (or more highly educated) politicians opt out of a political career, and instead pursue an alternative vocation. As less-educated politicians may not have such an outside option, the presence of active criminal organisations becomes inversely related effectively to elected politicians’ ability.

To test this prediction, the authors use data from Italian municipalities over the period 1985-2011. Since 1991, Italian local governments can be dissolved by the national government under law no. 164/1991 when there is even the slightest presumption of ties between local politicians and organised crime.

As these dissolutions arguably weaken the political influence of organised crime and are exogenously imposed, they allow a direct assessment of how elected politicians’ education levels differ before and after the dissolution.

Using information from the 217 dissolutions that have taken place between 1991 and 2011, Daniele and Geys show that the dissolution of a local government due to Mafia infiltration induces a significant upward shift in the educational level of local politicians.

These effects are strongest when focusing on mayors (‘Sindaco’) and aldermen (‘Assessore’). All else equal, these are 18% more educated in the absence of Mafia infiltration, which translates into approximately one more year of education. Since similar effects do not materialise when looking at more than 1,000 local government dissolutions unrelated to Mafia infiltration, the findings can be credibly interpreted as a result of organised crime.

Overall, therefore, organised crime not only affects economic, financial and social outcomes, but also the quality of our political leaders. It thereby mainly depresses the education level of those members of (local) governments that most directly hold the power to affect public policy decisions.

On a more positive note, however, improved law enforcement – via an adequate use of law no. 164/1991 – allows mitigating criminal organisations’ political (and thereby economic) consequences.

ENDS

Notes for editors: ‘Organized Crime, Institutions and Political Quality: Empirical Evidence from Italian Municipalities’ by Gianmarco Daniele and Benny Geys is published in the August 2015 issue of the Economic Journal.

Gianmarco Daniele is at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Benny Geys is at the Norwegian Business School.

For further information: contact Gianmarco Daniele on +32-486-813-871 (email: daniele.gianmarco@vub.ac.be); Benny Geys via email: Benny.Geys@bi.no; or Romesh Vaitilingam on +44-7768-661095 (email: romesh@vaitilingam.com; Twitter: @econromesh).