I know some of my Italian friends will like this story
. It's about organized crime in northern Naples, which has some differences with the Sicilian-style Mafia that Americans are used to stories about. Most prominently, for a couple decades there was little violence. The head of the dominant clan, Paolo Di Lauro, had more of an accountant style than the typical murder-prone crime boss.
One thing that was clear to me when reading the article is that organized crime is all about social capital. And in Italy, the government doesn't have a lot of social capital:
An anti-Mafia judge told me that some of the police—even those who have not been corrupted—would rather not see the government prevail, because they fear the even greater disorder that would result. Another judge pointed out to me that the government needs the Camorra for social control. He said, “For a political leader, it’s easier to speak to a Camorra boss than to 100,000 people to get a message across.” More than that, he said: the Camorra sets standards, enforces laws, keeps police power itself in check, fends off aggressive tax collectors, employs a huge percentage of the population, creates and distributes wealth more efficiently than any other sector of society, and stands in to keep things going, especially in times like these, when the national economy has failed and the currency itself is at risk.
One popular narrative about the European financial crisis has been that Mediterranean cultures are lazy while Northern European cultures are hard-working. But I think it goes deeper than that: around the Mediterranean, a lot of work is put into building social capital and paying social taxes–from favors to protection money–and avoiding the government's tax collectors. In the north, there's a tradition of strong government and paying your taxes. Of course, in the Northern style, a clever financial mastermind can accumulate massive wealth without paying off a whole city's worth of associates. He'll also be less likely to face solitary confinement.