Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 253-273

First online:

Does illegality breed violence? Drug trafficking and state-sponsored protection rackets

  • Richard SnyderAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Brown University Email author 
  • , Angelica Duran-MartinezAffiliated withDepartment of Political Science, Brown University

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Illegality does not necessarily breed violence. The relationship between illicit markets and violence depends on institutions of protection. When state-sponsored protection rackets form, illicit markets can be peaceful. Conversely, the breakdown of state-sponsored protection rackets, which may result from well-meaning policy reforms intended to improve law enforcement, can lead to violence. The cases of drug trafficking in contemporary Mexico and Burma show how a focus on the emergence and breakdown of state-sponsored protection rackets helps explain variation in levels of violence both within and across illicit markets.