A recent working paper investigating the historical and geographical origins of the Mafia has been reviewed by Chris Colvin at the NEP-HIS Blog. His review was picked up by the Financial Times (click here). You can read Chris's Blog post here and access Buonanno et al's paper here.
This research attempts to explain the large differences in the early diffusion of the maﬁa across different areas of Sicily. We advance the hypothesis that, after the demise of Sicilian feudalism, the lack of publicly provided property-right protection from widespread banditry favored the development of a ﬂorid market for private protection and the emergence of a cartel of protection providers: the maﬁa. This would especially be the case in those areas (prevalently concentrated in the Western part of the island) characterized by the production and commercialization of sulphur and citrus fruits, Sicily’s most valuable export goods whose international demand was soaring at the time. We test this hypothesis combining data on the early incidence of maﬁa across Sicilian municipalities and on the distribution of sulphur reserves, land suitability for the cultivation of citrus fruits, distance from the main commercial ports, and a variety of other geographical controls. Our empirical ﬁndings provide support for the proposed hypothesis documenting, in particular, a signiﬁcant impact of sulphur extraction, terrain ruggedness, and distance from Palermo’s port on maﬁa’s early diffusion.