Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Mafia Economics


“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” is one of the most famous lines in cinematic history. It is the set-up for the scene in Godfather where a big shot Hollywood producer wakes up with a bloody horse’s head in his bed.

In less than 10 words it also perfectly sums up how the rich and powerful get their way. Use of the tactic has certainly never been limited to Mafiosi.

In fact, countries possessing military might have made “offers they can’t refuse” all through history to less powerful nations or regions.

But today’s ultimate practitioners are giant corporations that dominate the world economy. The 0.1% wealthiest people on the planet use their control of these corporations to impose their will on the rest of us.

Their “offers we can’t refuse” go something like this:

“Cut pensions, chop government jobs, privatize everything you can, or we will start a run on your currency and sink your entire economy.”

“Sign this ‘free trade agreement’ or we will pull all our investments from your country and move them to places that have agreed to everything we want.”

“Cut our taxes or we will fund a political party that will.”

“Build this pipeline if you want jobs.”

“We don’t care about democracy, satisfying us is more important that satisfying the will of the majority.”

“Weaken unions, or we’ll take our money and run.”

“Ignore global warming, or we’ll make sure you regret it.”

“If we don’t like your response or you protest too much, maybe even at all, we will use the violence at our disposal, including that of the governments we own, to crush you.”

But it’s not just threats. Like Don Corleone, the corporations also have politicians, judges, journalists, academics, lobbyists, personalities and many others on their payroll to lie, obfuscate, corrupt, manipulate and who knows what else in order to get their way. Both the wise Mafia Don and the effective corporate CEO understand that power comes in many forms. The use of violence needs to be minimized. Better to save it for when there is no other way to impose your will, or it loses its effectiveness. And too much looks bad. (Witness Iraq and Afghanistan.)

But here’s the thing with both organized crime and our economic system in general. There’s always some competitor  — be it a long established rival or neighbourhood punk/upstart capitalist — willing to employ whatever means necessary to steal your territory. If you get soft you risk losing everything.  If your profit margins are less than your competitors their power will grow while yours stagnates.

As the movie (and its sequels) vividly shows, there can be no Mr. Nice Guy Mafia Don. The logic of organized crime makes it impossible. To be successful — to survive — lying, cheating, bribing and ultimately violence is necessary.

The same is true of our wider economic system. While violence is usually confined to governments that the corporations control, in both worlds hands get dirty doing whatever it takes to succeed because the system demands it.

This is why environmentalists who look for capitalist solutions to global warming are either extremely naïve or in the pay of corporations. This is why union leaders who fail to see the fundamental contradiction between workers’ and capitalists’ interests often sell out to the bosses. This is why in the long run there can be no capitalism with a human face.

If the 0.1% who own and control most of our economy want to keep their power they will act as capitalists have always acted. They will grab as much profit for themselves as they can and pass the environmental costs onto the rest of us while doing so. They will try to reduce wages to increase their profits. They will manipulate democracy to get their way. They will attempt to overthrow democracy if it threatens their existence. They have no choice. Greed, self-interest and a relentless drive to increase profits are the foundations upon which the capitalist economic system is built.

Only when the vast majority of us, the 90% who work for a living, come together to use our collective power to create a new democratic economic system will anything change.

Only greater power can overcome the might of the Mafia Don or the corporate CEO: The power of the people who actually do all the work that makes up our economy.

Gary Engler is a Canadian journalist, union activist, novelist (The Year We Became Us) and co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite (


Gary Engler is a Canadian journalist, novelist (The Year We Became Us) and co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite (  He is currently working on the first great hockey novel tentatively titled Puck Hog.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”