In the fall 2019 semester, the students of the Liberal Arts and Management Program class Black Markets: Supply and Demand explored many types of black markets and examined many perspectives related to such illicit markets. Through careful discussion and reading the students discovered four prevalent themes throughout the course: the role of government in creating the context for black market activity, elements of demand, elements of supply, and varying levels of social implications.

The thirteen 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.

Different levels of government regulation and enforcement create the context for black market activity

The world is governed by systems of laws created to maintain order. While most individuals abide by these laws, some maneuver around the system for personal gain. Black markets thrive despite governmental regulations because rules are made to be broken.

In Jacob Herbert’s paper, titled “Weed amongst the Trees: Marijuana in Bloomington,” the theme of government is prominent.  The paper shows that, despite marijuana’s strict scheduling and many layers of enforcement, it prevails relatively commonly and openly in Bloomington due to the gap between the government’s official, legal position on the drug and the opinions of the real people who break and enforce these laws.  The people who use it clearly don’t perceive marijuana as immoral and dangerous while law enforcement has not made it a top priority, despite it being categorized as a dangerous and highly illicit drug.

Aisha Green’s series of fictionalized vignettes titled “Organized Crime” depict the different kinds of legal and illegal organ markets that are created through government intervention. In countries like the US and Iran, the government seeks to take full control of the market, but often fall short in regulating the market. However in countries with little government enforcement such as India, the same problem occurs leading to growth and expansion of the organ black market.

Emma Wagner’s essay “Illegal Logging in Peru” explores the complex relationship between the Peruvian economy and the illicit logging market, following the supply chain from the depths of the Amazon Rainforest to the reaches of the international market. Due to economic dependency, the government meets the market with a general lack of regulation and lack of enforcement. Through each stage of the Peruvian logging industry a blind eye is turned, bribes are accepted, and apathy is present.

Motivations that create demand for black market goods and services come from underlying desire, greed, or needs

Social norms and desire to satisfy wants and needs drive demand. As a result, humans seek out various goods and services, whether through illegal or legal means. The following papers demonstrate how persistent demand creates opportunities to engage in black markets.

Mary Kate Ausbrook’s essay “The Persistent Market for Fake IDs and Underage Drinking” analyzes the demand side of underage drinking. The desire to engage in supposedly fun adult like activities and fit in with others drives the demand for underage consumption of alcohol. This want goes one step further as teens actively search for ways to access alcohol by purchasing fake IDs and using them to engage in underage drinking. The strong demand fueled by these motivations allows this black market to persist.

People are motivated to fulfill their demand within black markets out of desire to obtain goods they believe will improve their quality of life, even for goods as trivial as cheese. Melanie Reinhart’s essay, “Russian ‘Fromagicide’,” explores the black market cheese trade that arose after sanctions were placed on certain food imports into Russia. Black markets exist to fulfill demand that is unfulfilled within legal markets. When governments make a good or service illegal, people will find a way to access that good, no matter the regulations surrounding it.

Maria Emmanoelides’ essay “Blood Diamonds: The Ugliness of a Natural Beauty” examines how individuals within society create demand for a product or resource. Some individuals participate in the market unknowingly by purchasing smuggled diamonds and others participate to obtain wealth and control within the government, as depicted in the film Blood Diamond. Without demand for these gems from countries like the United States, the civil war rebel groups would not receive the funding that they need to continue to smuggle these gems. The demand for these ideas help this market to prosper and flourish.

Ashley Brown’s short story, “Simple Life to Secret Life: An Amish Teen’s Journey to the Black Market” portrays a typical Amish teen going through his rebellious stage, involving the use of illegal drugs. Because this rebellious stage is encouraged in Amish culture, Amish teens feel the need to partake in illegal activity. This societal pressure creates the demand for illicit drugs that exists in rural Amish communities such as Shipshewana, Indiana.

Unique motivations for black market suppliers spur economic growth

The international black market encompasses an array of demands. With each good or service, suppliers act in response to demand with unique motivations, including economic stability, better opportunities, etc. Thus, these black market suppliers are able to support markets, growing the shadow economy where licit markets fail. In the following works, the authors describe some of these motivations and their effect on the supply side of the economy.

Cheng Chui Ping, better known as Sister Ping, was a Chinese human smuggler, or Snakehead. Casey Carroll’s story, “The Mother of All Snakeheads,” describes the events that took place in Sister Ping’s life that caused her to be one of the most successful suppliers in the market, and that led to her downfall.

Stacey Tam’s essay “Making the Old New Again” investigates the global supply chain for counterfeit fountain pens. Facing an increasing demand for pens, Chinese manufacturers maximize profit through mass production of name brand counterfeits. The counterfeit pens retail at prices lower than authentic ones, but the drastically low cost of production yields high profit margins. These high profit margins motivate counterfeiters to supply the market, as other options for economic stability are limited in rural villages in China.

In Lauren Fischer’s essay, “A Market for the Digital World,” we learn that the social media market of fake followers and bots is increasingly facilitated by entrepreneurial suppliers and technology companies.  She explains how companies like Divumi create the technology that makes this market possible, how these companies operate legally and illegally and are therefore responsible for much of this gray and black market activity. As technology evolves and advances, so does this market and the organizations that supply it.

Black markets create social implications that can have long lasting effects on society and the environment

While technological developments are advantageous for countries and the global economy, they elicit a more interconnected world. Therefore, the scope of every market, legal or not, expands with the rise of globalization. As black markets increase in size and users, they affect not only people involved in transactions but also the surrounding environments both geographically and socially. Moreover, their diverse scopes result in a myriad of effects on various environmental and societal structures. The following papers address the wide perspectives, influences, and implications that black markets can offer.

Elliott Obermaier focuses on Napster’s history of innovation. His essay, “Napster: the Black Market that Publicly Dominated the Music Industry,” describes how the company set the standard for technological advancement in music streaming that is currently thriving. However, the market created a dilemma regarding how artists, streaming services, and record labels should divide the profits of this newfound means of listening to music. The outcome of the industry’s lawsuit against Napster affected all Napster’s users and those who were losing royalties.  It also opened the door for the long lasting legal, social, and economic change.

Exotic animals have been bought and sold since ancient times. Yulia Nefedova’s essay,  “Illicit Market for Animals,” analyzes the inner-workings and implications of the modern marketplace for exotic wildlife and animal body parts. With technological development, people’s desires for exotic animals has increased.  While governments and wildlife organizations try to protect animals from poaching, the black market continues to grow, negatively impacting wildlife diversity and the world’s environment.

Peter Andrews investigates the trade for human organs in “The Value of a Life.” Human organs are arguably the most valuable commodity traded in today’s society due to their exclusivity and unparalleled ability to save lives. With the significant increase in the demand for new organs in recent decades, legal organizations like UNOS are unable to assist the majority of organ donor patients. Out of desperation, many turn to the illicit industry to accommodate them. This demand among affluent individuals coupled with general apathy towards the impoverished community gave rise to the organ trafficking black market. The implications of this market are the negative physical, societal, and fiscal impacts that it has on the illicit organ donor population.


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Perspectives on Black Markets v.3 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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