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May 4, 2012: Nine bodies were found hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just across the border from Laredo, Texas. Police could not confirm who was responsible for the murders but a message seen with the bodies indicated it may have been an attack by the Zetas cartel against the rival Gulf cartel.
The Houston Chronicle is carrying a story with startling revelations of drug gang brutality in Mexico. Among other things, it reports of kidnapping young men and forcing them to engage in contests to the death in order to find and recruit killers. This made me wonder what kinds of things deter people from behaving like this, and what kinds of conditions produce this kind of behavior.
1. The state forbids something, like drugs.
2. Production MUST therefore be illegal, and production will occur because the demand doesn’t disappear when the drug is made illegal.
3. Going illegal is a necessary condition for all those who are willing to produce and supply the drug. The profit motive remains, even heightens, and so there will always be people who will go illegal.
4. The people attracted into the illegal business are going to be the people who already have the least inhibitions about doing anything immoral and illegal. They are the ones most willing to take risks.
5. Competition is all within illegality. This means that moral rules that govern peaceful competition do not prevail among the suppliers. They therefore select among any actions and rules that bring them survival, profits, and growth. The most effective means of gaining market share and preventing the incursion of rivals within a situation of illegal rivalry will include a reputation and readiness to kill and maim so as to enforce one’s will.
6. The means include corrupting law enforcement. This is virtually a necessity and always occurs in these conditions. The results include gang warfare. It also includes uneasy peace among gangs and division into territories and fiefdoms.
7. The competition need not lead to the practices mentioned in this article whose aim is to find and groom the most merciless killers. Yet it probably happened in the 1920s gangs that this mode of competition also prevailed as the many stories of Capone suggest. Most gangster movies also depict that the more brutal gangsters rise to the top.
I don’t claim that this is a complete explanation of what’s going on, but I did want to make the point that what’s going on in Mexico is not a random thing and not a peculiarly Mexican thing. These things often have rational explanations. It’s akin to terrorism and assassination and other forms of violence in that respect. There are often reasons that we can find that explain it even if the behavior is awful.