Bryan Caplan  

Some Wisdom of Don Corleone

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I just finished re-reading The Godfather.  It's full of grist for the social science mill.  My personal favorite:
"There are men in this world," he said, "who go about demanding to be killed.  You must have noticed them.  They quarrel in gambling games, they jump out of their automobiles in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender, they humiliate and bully people whose capabilities they do not know.  I have seen a man, a fool, deliberately infuriate a group of dangerous men, and he himself without any resources.  These are people who wander through the world shouting, 'Kill me.  Kill me.'  And there is always somebody ready to oblige them."
Personality psychology, criminology, labor economics, game theory, international relations, sociology of poverty - these are just the start of the list of academic disciplines that could profitably pursue Don Corleone's insight.  And if you're interested in what economists have awkwardly dubbed "non-cognitive ability," read the whole book.

COMMENTS (9 to date)
Doug writes:

The more winner-take-all the tournament is the more incentive there is for extreme brashness.

F. Lynx Pardinus writes:

All I remember from the novel is the seemingly endless subplot about the size of the ... of the girlfriend of the plastic surgeon. Stop already, Mario Puzo, we get it. Geez.

Eric Evans writes:

That's taking what Don Corleone said about Luca Brasi a bit out of context to make your point.

Ken B writes:

It's a great quote, but I am frankly a bit puzzled how it could be 'out of context'. I gather it's Corleone rationalizing rather than teaching a class. So what? Bryan is saying the statement, whether meant as rationalization or as dictum, is insightful.

Phillip writes:

Enjoyed learning about non-cognitive ability, thanks for the link. Do you see any tension between this research and the thesis of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids?

Abe writes:

The book is a great companion experience to the film. It's just as rich an experience. It's been years since I've read it, but I recall liking the passage concerning the macro effects of the mafia's parasitic behavior on a society.

On the other hand, I couldn't believe the parts towards the end concerning Lucy Mancini's, um, womanly problems.

Dave Tufte writes:

This is similar to a meme that went around last summer about what a former cop turned criminal justice professor had learned about the bad guys:

Everyone has a hot button … Although they may not know it, there are people who find these hot buttons instinctively, and they live to push them.

Those button pushers are that group that's trying to get themselves killed.

BTW: I always enjoy your posts about parenting, but they also make me wonder if I can do much about my one kid who is a button-pusher.

Chris writes:

The Godfather movies clearly pleased the left partly because of the implication that the mafia and business are no different. How often do organized crime bosses say in movies, "it's just business." "I'll make you an offer he can't refuse" is also the way the left views the takeover of a smaller business by a larger business, or the hiring of an employee at less than what the left thinks he should be paid. In one of the movies, they even talk about dividing Cuba as if the Communist government were on the right side.

There's no difference between the various sorts of people whose goal is to make money - whether they defeat competition by offering lower prices or by killing.

Patrick writes:

Chris, many many many many people in business don't see any difference, either. I can't count high enough to express the number of times I've heard a quote from 'The Godfather' or 'Scarface' in business meetings. Corporatists are not libertarians.

"We have a saying at this company: Our competitors are our friends and our customers are our enemies."

—James Randall, president of Archer Daniels Midland

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