Wages of Crime: Black Markets, Illegal Finance, and the Underworld Economy


336 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2417-7
DDC 338.4'3364





Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton, a former columnist for the Queen’s Journal, is a
Toronto-based freelance editor and writer.


R.T. Naylor, a professor of economics at McGill University, has written
extensively on the intersection of business and crime. This book’s six
chapters examine the Mafia, black markets, underground commerce, money
laundering, criminal trafficking in gold, and the effectiveness of crime
control policies. An afterword tackles the phenomenon of international
terrorism and questions claims made by the Bush administration about the
organization, wealth, and power of al-Qaeda. Naylor’s major arguments
are that criminal and legitimate businesses are often very similar, that
law enforcement agencies have sought to augment their own power by
seriously exaggerating the threat posed by organized crime, and that
many efforts to prosecute financial crime are ineffective and unfair to
innocent parties.

This is a persuasive, if sometimes excessively polemical, study of the
underworld economy. Naylor’s examples are well researched and
compelling, and he makes a strong case for the inefficacy of
contemporary attempts to prosecute so-called organized crime. Most
effective is his debunking of inflated estimates of the sophistication
and wealth of criminal enterprises, including his analysis of the ways
in which law enforcement and the media conspire to stoke the public’s
fear of vast and insidious criminal schemes. More suspect, however, is
Naylor’s mockery of efforts to control the supply side of weapons and
drugs, as well as his sweeping claim that “[i]n the hands of law
enforcement, the modern policy of attacking the proceeds of crime by
finding, freezing, and forfeiting laundered money has been, to all
intents and purposes, one great washout.” Without proposing serious
alternatives, and without exploring the implications of abandoning
conventional approaches to illegal commerce, particularly with regard to
money laundering, Naylor loses some credibility in his condemnation of
the status quo.

In terms of style, Naylor’s exuberance can be entertaining, but there
is a slight tendency in the writing toward rhetorical excess, and the
humour is sometimes in poor taste (one subchapter, for instance, is
titled “The Inscrutable Orient”). The smattering of typographical
errors throughout the text can be distracting.


Naylor, R.T., “Wages of Crime: Black Markets, Illegal Finance, and the Underworld Economy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/18005.