Sunday, September 13, 2015

Who Is Paulie Walnuts?

My wife and I recently started watching The Sopranos. Yeah, yeah, I know, we're a decade too late, but I watched Mad Men in real time so I've more than made up for it. I even watched the Sylvia plotline, so I have some credit due.

Anyway, I'm forever confused as to the economics of The Sopranos, and for once the internet appears to have let me down. Like, I don't understand it. In one episode earning $5000 is seen as a huge score--and then they do the math and, like everyone in the room is all excited about getting 10% of it. Then in the next episode someone is walking around with $200,000 cash and it's a huge disappointment to everyone involved. And then someone goes and spends 10 grand on something, and then they get all pissy because they have to buy dinner. I know they're all good at math, because as far as I can tell about 80% of this show involves slicing up percentages of what people get and 20% of it is having sex with weird foreign people and introducing new asshole characters who everyone in the room knows is going to get shot by the end of the season.

But let's not fault the show too much. They do a pretty good job of selling the mafia to us. Like, Tony does a convincing rationalization of everything he does at one point--everybody who gets into the mafia knows exactly what they are getting into and what the risks are, and they're just filling in a need that people want. I'm sitting there thinking "Yeah! If people want to drink or hire prostitutes or gamble, those are all victimless crimes! Why shouldn't people get to do engage in willful, voluntary transactions with one another? Why do they have to dress up in ugly burgundy vests and track suits and eat pasta, when we all should be doing this? The mafia is just an underground version of a libertarian utopia! This is great! Tony's right!" And even some of the sketchier things, like skimming taxpayer money from the Esplanada project, is just a natural reaction to the bloated, inefficient ways that Northeastern unions and government officials have forced on people!

Then I remember that the mafia, you know, murders innocent people and steals a lot of stuff from bystanders and roughs up small businesses for "protection" and all other sorts of non-Murry-Rothbard-approved activities, and I realize that the mafia is actually not all that glamorous but actually kind of a horrible dystopia.

Still, it seems like a pretty decent intellectual enterprise: is there a place for some sort of mafia-light organization that uses libertarian political principles as a justification to make a bunch of money doing horrible but victimless crimes, trimming out the uglier aspects of the classical organization of the mob? We'd be political dissidents, after all, not criminals. At least, that's how I'd get myself to sleep every night. Dr Melfi would agree, I'd think.

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