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21 May 2010

Read McMafia instead.

I read this mostly because I loved McMafia so much. I want Misha Glenny to do more. Alas, Moises Naim’s Illicit is significantly less insightful. I mean, it’s nuts; McMafia is amazing, but Misha Glenny doesn’t even get an Amazon author page.

It’s a decent book if there weren’t better ones, though. Drawing much more from official sources (and in particular, official estimates) than from on-the-ground research, Naim puts together what is really a pretty good piece of research. Theres a lot of good info and he makes it, if not lively, not boring. He covers lots a few interesting aspects, and covers a few interesting bits of how intellectual property gets created in Nigeria and India amidst rampant copying, tidbits I had not heard before.

Somewhat disappointing is that he’s never on the ground, he’s completely a secondary source. It’s forgivable, his scope is quite broad. Much worse, in my opinion, is his analysis. His ‘what to do about it’ is more of the same. He fails to, unlike Glenny, connect the impossibility of governing victimless commerce (say, cigarette smuggling) with the ridiculous results of prohibitive policies. He briefly mentions that we need to give governments achievable goals, but spends more time talking about how all the governments need to basically get together, hold hands, and have congruent policies. Pfft.

The end result is that he doesn’t seem to put together that some of these crimes are true evils–abhorrent, ruthless, ‘how am I against the death penalty again?’ evils, in particular, sex trafficking. By putting copyright violations in the same broad category of ‘a problem of international legal system mismatches’, one can only come up with policies that give stupid barely-crimes way too much attention and true evil way too little.

The analysis at the end is what really kills it. The early chapters are mostly information without any real agenda shoved at you; that kind of writing is actually hard to find. Maybe it would have been better if he’d just skipped the ending part. But the naive analysis in the last two chapters leaves a disappointing taste in the mouth.

Anyways, it’s a decent book if you’ve never hit the topic. But you’ll get more heartfelt, closer to the ground content in blogs, and McMafia is just better than this in every way.