Bryan Caplan  

Theory of the Hooligan Firm

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There's a lot of grist for the social science mill in the soccer hooligan drama Green Street Hooligans. Starring Elijah Wood, in a performance good enough to make you forget Frodo for the duration, it tells the story of an American journalism student who "goes native" after meeting a "firm" (=gang) of English soccer hooligans.

Soccer hooligan firms are an interesting counter-example to the theory that organized crime is just an economic response to prohibition. At least in the movie, the hooligan firms gruesomely fight each other for bragging points alone. There's no money in it; in fact, even the head hooligan needs a square day job as a P.E. teacher to sustain his pugnacious lifestyle.

Of course, a blog-savvy hooligan might argue that bloggers are just cowardly hooligans. We're fighting each other just for bragging points, too. We're just too scared to do it the normal way!


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COMMENTS (5 to date)
John Thacker writes:

See Edward C. Banfield's The Unheavenly City Revisited, specifically the chapter "Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit. Gangs and gang behavior can be *fun*, in addition to being profitable. Neither reason has to be exclusionary, though.

Fabio Rojas writes:

"Soccer hooligan firms are an interesting counter-example to the theory that organized crime is just an economic response to prohibition."

A few comments:

1. I don't think anybody ever claimed that gangs are primarily a response to prohibition. The claim is that gangs specialize in prohibited activities. A related claim is that gang violence is increased by prohibition.

2. It's an accepted observation that most societies have youth gangs who fight primarily for turf. From studies of Chicago neighborhoods to studies of aboriginal groups, you always observe turf gangs. The evolutionary psychologist would probably say its a way of showing fitness. You find the equivalent of the hooligan firm in nearly every society.

3. It's not surprising that gangs are natural organizations for ilicit crime - young people have notoriously short time horizons and enjoy the easy pay offs of prohibited activities; pulling off prohibited actions increases friendship that young people look for; and you need trust among people involved in pulling off crimes.

I would probably say that the youth gang is a nearly universal form of social organization and it is well suited for performing certain tasks related to prohibited crimes. Without prohibition, youth gangs resemble hooligan firms. Prohibition encourages youth gangs to develop more violent tendencies and develop more extensive structures for crime.

Kinney writes:

For more about this topic people should check out Bill Buford's book Among the Thugs. It is a really good read about the motivations and social undercurrents of being in a firm. It is written by an American that knew little to nothing about soccer hooligans before he saw them in London and is a quick entertaining read.

Omer K writes:

I have to wonder if IQ has some partial relationship to whether you hook up with a gang... if we could somehow tease apart the innate nature of IQ and its social effects in terms of enhanced opportunities that is.

Jaleh writes:

Dear sirs I am doing some studies on culture economics profesinals and researchers. I will be thankful if you me. Looking for your answer .Jaleh Akhlaghi

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