Origins of the Sicilian Mafia: The Market for Lemons

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    View graph of relations

    In this paper, we study the emergence of an extractive institution that hampered economic development in Italy for more than a century: the Sicilian mafia. Since its first appearance in the late 1800s, the reasons behind the rise of the Sicilian mafia have remained a puzzle. In this paper, we argue that the mafia arose as a response to an exogenous shock in the demand for oranges and lemons, following Lind’s discovery in the late 18th century that citrus fruits cured scurvy. More specifically, we claim that mafia appeared in locations where producers made high profits from citrus production for overseas export. Operating in an environment with a weak rule of law, the mafia protected citrus production from predation and acted as intermediaries between producers and exporters. Using original data from a parliamentary inquiry in 1881-86 on Sicilian towns, the Damiani Inquiry, we show that mafia presence is strongly related to the production of oranges and lemons. The results hold when different data sources and several controls are employed.


    • Origins of the Sicilian Mafia:The Market for Lemons

      Rights statement: © 2017 The Economic History Association. This work is made available online in accordance with the publisher’s policies. Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

      Accepted author manuscript, 2 MB, PDF-document


    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages33
    Pages (from-to)1083-1115
    JournalThe Journal of Economic History
    Journal publication dateDec 2017
    Issue number4
    Early online date24 Nov 2017
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

    ID: 128795790