[Paleopsych] TIME Asia Magazine: Merchants of Mayhem

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Merchants of Mayhem -- Nov. 07, 2005
[Thanks to Laird for this.]

    Why the biggest beneficiaries of globalization may be pimps, drug
    runners and other crooks
    Sunday, Oct. 30, 2005

    Consider these disparate and disturbing facts from Illicit, a new book
    by Moisés Naím. There are 300 tons of unsecured nuclear material in
    the former Soviet Union, international terrorists itching to get their
    hands on it, and smugglers who may be able to help close the deal.
    Trafficking in women is facilitated by websites where merchants
    advertise and sell their wares with impunity. The global trade in
    stolen art has led to the disappearance of 43 Van Goghs, 174
    Rembrandts and 551 Picassos. In Central Asia, children are believed to
    have been stolen from orphanages and killed for their organs. And
    money laundering accounts for up to 10% of the world's GDP, or as much
    $5 trillion.

    Shocking? Maybe not. Globalization's dark side is remarkably well
    illuminated, at least in fragments, and anyone who reads the news is
    somewhat inured to facts such as these. But just because we read about
    them on a daily basis doesn't mean that we understand the larger
    context. Indeed, it's not obvious what all of the above phenomena have
    in common. Sure, they all involve illegal activities that cross
    national borders. But is there an underlying trend that explains why
    organ smuggling, money laundering and weapons trafficking have all
    grown dramatically in the last decade?

    That's the question Naím, the editor of Foreign Policy magazine, takes
    up in this valiant attempt to organize into a coherent picture the
    kaleidoscopic shards of information on underground trading, from music
    piracy to nuclear smuggling. The result is like a photo negative of
    Thomas Friedman's books (most recently, this year's The Earth is Flat)
    focusing on the happier aspects of globalization. The usual suspects
    are back in the spotlight: expanding free markets, the Internet, and
    the geopolitical fragmentation that followed the end of the Cold War.
    But in Naím's version of the story, these changeswhich in Friedman's
    telling are supposed to usher in a new, more enlightened global
    orderhave become accessories to vice. In the 1990s, "Not only did the
    hold of governments on borders weaken," writes Naím, "but [economic]
    reforms amplified the rewards awaiting those who were prepared to
    break the rules." And it turned out that everyone from gangsters to
    generals to regular businesspeople could hardly wait to grab the

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    [arrow2.gif ]  [46]18 Health Heroes
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    [arrow2.gif]  [47]Pakistan: After the Earthquake


    [arrow2.gif]  [48]Books: Merchants of Mayhem


    [arrow2.gif]  [49]Iran: Outburst in Tehran
    [arrow2.gif]  [50]India: Dark Days of Diwali
    [arrow2.gif]  [51]Bali: Investigation Bogs Down
    [arrow2.gif]  [52]Milestones
    [arrow2.gif]  [53]Verbatim
    [arrow2.gif]  [54]Letters


    [arrow2.gif]  [55]Style: Pimp My Sneakers!
    [arrow2.gif]  [56]Africa: Game Show
    [arrow2.gif]  [57]Diversions: A la Cart
    [arrow2.gif]  [58]Travel: Room to Fly
    [arrow2.gif]  [59]Stockholm: Material Whirl
    [arrow2.gif]  [60]Jakarta: The Cool Room


                                                CNN.com: [61]Top Headlines


    They did so on such a scale that it changed the world. "Global
    criminal activities are transforming the international system,
    upending the rules, creating new players, and reconfiguring power in
    international politics and economics," writes Naím. These new players
    are counterfeiters, shady financiers, snakeheads, terrorists, corrupt
    officials and other fast-adapters now flourishing beyond the reach of
    authorities. They have even redefined geography: as governments'
    control over the flow of people, goods and information weakens,
    opportunists have turned places like Cambodia, Liberia and parts of
    Russia into "geopolitical black holes" where illicit networks can
    operate unchecked.

    Even outside such areas, transnational crime has a way of slipping
    through cracks, not least because of inadequate and inconsistent laws.
    Turkey didn't prohibit human smuggling until recently, writes Naím,
    while in the U.S. people-smugglers face a lighter penalty than those
    who carry marijuana across borders. International organizations often
    do no better: a U.N. convention on migrants' rights was drafted in
    1978, signed in 1990 and went into effect in 2003only to end up
    largely unenforced.

    Given inadequate laws and resources, governments will need to choose
    their battles wisely. Legalizing marijuana, for example, would free up
    authorities to crack down on hard drugs, and money spent hunting down
    pirated CDs might be better applied to fighting more insidious forms
    of trafficking. But Naím points out that the line between various
    crimes is often hazy. In many parts of the world, counterfeiting is
    controlled by gangs that traffic in drugs and people.

    For all its erudition and scope, Illicit has one vexing flaw: its lack
    of substantial original research. Naím is an armchair tour guide,
    relying mostly on well-worn news stories and official reports. For a
    book on the underground trade in sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, Illicit
    is disappointingly dry. The climax is not a memorable glimpse inside a
    smuggling ring, but a raft of policy suggestions such as better
    coordination among government agencies and improved international
    cooperationhardly page-turning stuff. Still, Naím succeeds in
    presenting a clear account of how illicit commerce works and what its
    consequences are. In doing so, he sheds light on one of the most
    powerful forces shaping today's world.

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