During this fall 2018 seminar, through reading and discussions, the authors and I agreed on over fifty main ideas relevant to the inner-workings of black markets, the power of persuasion, the motivations of both licit-market and illicit-market entrepreneurs, and the gullibility found in human nature. After writing and reading the works in this volume, we grappled with our course’s main ideas to hone in on themes that relate outcomes of our studies to the works that follow. Coming to consensus was a process of analysis and synthesis, of categorization and creativity. The three themes and the related articles speak to the workings of and the players in illicit markets: businesses, governments, and consumers. Another way to think about the workings is that they relate to the economy, law and politics, and psychology and sociology.

While you can look at black markets through many lenses, illicit markets affect all of our lives. If you are reading this, there is a good chance the computer, tablet, or phone that you are touching contains either black market heavy metals or was mined through slave-condition labor. You cannot pick up the newspaper, if that’s your preferred mode for reading, without encountering stories of corruption, arrests of drug dealers, or fraud. And who knows? That newspaper might be produced on black market paper.

There is simply more smuggling of goods and counterfeit goods than we think about on a daily basis because as one theme states: Black markets are adaptable and resilient in respect to laws and regulations. While we re-actively create most laws, illicit-market entrepreneurs have moved on to the next great idea, and our newly passed laws give these people business opportunities, over and over again. This pattern leads to our second theme: Black markets are created by inefficiencies in licit markets. Ultimately, the products and services that emerge in these markets reach us, the consumers, and infiltrate our communities and society writ large. Our third theme states that Black markets have profound impact on individuals and society.

The eighteen articles in this volume provide rich takes on these themes. We placed each article with the theme we believe it most exemplifies; however, each article conveys facts and context that relate to each theme. We believe that these themes interact and work together like strands of a rope strengthening each other.

Please note that authors of a couple of the articles personally observed others engaging in illicit activities. The authors did not. And the authors have not revealed true names of the persons they observed.

Adaptable and Resilient in respect to Laws and Regulations

Humans are an ingenious species. We adapt to the world around us and seek the betterment of our condition. As a result, it is only fitting that the illegal institutions we create are as resilient as we are. In the following papers, we are given a glimpse of this ingenuity.

Cynthia Cahya’s essay “Narcos: Netflix’s Complex Portrayal of the War on Drugs” goes into detail about the political contexts fueling the Colombian drug trade as well as U.S foreign policy involvement portrayed within the hit TV show. Drug kingpins, local law enforcement, and DEA agents all play a role in creating and perpetuating the environments ripe for illicit activity; reacting to and operating within and outside the framework of the law.

Nicholas Buehler’s short story “Who, What, When, Ware” shows just what can happen under our noses. In it, a college student finds how anyone can be involved in a cybercrime black market, just as anyone can be exposed to it.

Brianna Baughman’s “Social Media and Its Impact on the Illicit Drug Market” surprises by revealing the impact of word-of-mouth marketing in lightly-regulated and extremely popular social media channels. The essay argues that the every-day nature of the messages normalizes an acceptance of drugs, makes purchases easy, and requires counter-adaptations by law enforcement.

Lauren Gronek’s “Black Markets during World War II” examines the relationship between government power and black markets. Rationing during the war led to booming black markets for products like gasoline and meat. In turn, the government issued propaganda to deter the criminal activities. The markets resulting from rationing demonstrate the adaptable nature of illicit businesses to laws and regulations.

Adeline Dixon’s “Legalization of Marijuana and Its Effects On Licit and Illicit Markets in the United States” provides a deeper understand of the reasons to legalize this drug. This chapter looks at the marijuana market and the persistence of the black market even though the legalization process has already started.

Moving from the complexities of the drug trade to the complexities of black markets for prescription drugs, Sally Zhai deconstructs the Chinese documentary “Dying to Survive.” The analysis of the movie explains the emergence of medicine black markets, considers the reasons for the high cost of production, and reflects on moral ambiguity of the medicine black market.

Created by inefficiencies in licit markets

Humans will take advantage of opportunities to meet wants and needs. And market inefficiency creates opportunity. In these essays we see the depths to which black market entrepreneurs will go to profit off inefficiency. In some instances powerful players actually create the inefficiencies. In other instances inefficiencies surface due to high demand, dwindling supply, or simple greed and low barriers to entry to create competing products. Sometimes, the very rules of the licit market game creates the rifts where black market activity is welcome and can thrive.

Andres Ayala’s “Ubiquitous Banana Dictatorship in Guatemala” examines Chiquita’s role in the banana industry and details the company’s corrupt operations. With a focus on economics, human rights, and U.S.-Guatemalan politics, this essay highlights mechanisms that create entanglements between licit and corrupt market activity. It raises questions about how we define black markets.

Caroline Ander’s “How the Honey Mafia Stuck” exposes the strange and elusive world of the Honey Mafia, a group of failing beekeepers who turn to theft and dirty honey to save their businesses. This essay shows an odd side of the illicit economy. Though some products seem almost certainly innocent, mostly everything comes into contact with sinister influences at some point.

Matthew Serrano’s “ Are Those Shoes Red” focuses on the counterfeit luxury goods market, a world-wide and growing market. The recognition and profitability that luxury brands enjoy provide the context that allows the counterfeit marketplace to thrive. The counterfeit goods market touches most people whether they know it or not through its impact on the luxury brands and the trust consumers feel for the products they buy.

Shaun Grega’s “India’s Sand Mafia” reveals another surprising black market good. The analysis of India’s illicit sand trade depicts the struggle of an unabated construction market to meet insatiable demand for an intrinsic and fundamental resource. Government corruption and public initiatives give rise to an exploitative and powerful “Sand Mafia” that operates with little regard to long term environmental impacts.

Allie Campbell’s “Under the Skin of Society: the Botox Market” describes an ugly black market in the beauty industry. It reveals the dangers of counterfeit Botox, the market forces and methods of the counterfeiters. Anyone can be prey in this market. This counterfeit product may help some reel in cash; it does not lead to desired beauty. The risks are high, so the consumer must be careful to learn about the source of Botox.

Hunter Haines’ “Illicit Marijuana Grows with Colorado Legalization” analysis the legalization of recreational marijuana and details the problems lawmakers in Colorado created for the state and the surrounding region through poor implementation and regulation. Intended to eliminate the illegal drug scene, the unprecedented law contributes to a growing weed problem.

Profound Impact on Individuals and Society

We all end up affected by black market activity. Some of us more than others. For some of us, the markets only cause worry, about criminal activity, about online safety, or the changing nature of the world. For many these markets have dire consequences, some die from drug overdoses, some end up enslaved, or some survive because the black market is the only way to get basic goods.

Chase Hastings’ “Kurosawa’s Stray Dog and Japan’s Apres Guerre” deconstructs the characters’ lives in Akira Kurosawa’s crime drama Stray Dog are shaped by the black market. The Japanese postwar black markets not only question economics but also the morality of the everyday person. It seems Kurosawa uses his two main detectives to represent the different ways the markets affected citizens and the country’s identity as a whole.

Kathryn Petersen’s short story “Their Abortions” delves into the impacts of the black market on two drastically different lifestyles, cultures and socioeconomic statuses. After finding out that Marie and Gaby were both pregnant, the New Yorker and the Texan navigate the current legislation and the black market surrounding abortions. While risking their life to have abortions, the two girls realize commonalities of the illicit black market of abortion.

Anoop Chinthala’s “Opioid Market in Bloomington, Indiana” pinpoints various factors such as the demographic of the area, the living conditions, and the legislation on a local and even state-wide scale, that affect the opioid market. Outside of the Indiana University campus, the opioid market has affected homelessness and poverty in the area and vice versa. This can be seen through the numerous programs Bloomington has started, some being funded by IU.

Michael Mitgang’s “Quiet Towns Are Suspicious” analyzes the black market presence in the series Ozark. The Byrde family’s life is flipped upside down when they find themselves intertwined with a Mexican drug cartel in Chicago. This typical Midwestern family gets sent to the Ozarks and out of fear, begins to launder the cartel’s money in the local society. The actions of the family following their move to the Ozarks affect the relationships within their family.

Sharon Hsu’s “Fashion in its True Cost” investigates the emergence and impacts of the fast fashion industry in recent years. The industry created a new way for consumers to shop for  low-priced, fashion-forward clothes. Behind our purchases in the US, however, the true cost affects people like manufacturers, designers, farmers in countries such as India and Bangladesh. Our actions create a chain effect that changes the world.

Larkin Reilly’s “The Campus Accessory” shows us the workings of the fake ID market. The fake ID market has increased over the past few years as technology has advanced. Underage individuals have easy access to ordering, importing, and using highly believable forms of fake identification in just several weeks, thanks to the internet. Production websites, most based in China, enable young students to experience the 21-year-old lifestyle.


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Perspectives on Black Markets v.2 Copyright © by Michael Morrone et. al. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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