Invisible Empires

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 University of Notre Dame Nordstrom.1@nd.edu
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Trillions of dollars move through the world’s markets illegally, and millions of people work in extra-state activities. They move everything from the dangerous (narcotics, toxic wastes, arms) through the luxurious (diamonds and art) to the necessary and the mundane (food, clothing, and electronics). Not only are fortunes made on these profits—empires are built. Empires that are, for various reasons, largely invisible. Illegal transactions are generally embedded in networks that span the globe. The most successful of these networks control finances and resources larger than many of the world’s countries. They can quite literally develop or cripple national emergent economies. These networks are not states, nor are they competing to become states. They thrive precisely because they constitute a different order of politics and economics than formal legal states (Nordstrom 2001). Illegal networks continuously intersect with states as they launder money into legality, move goods across the borders of il/legality, and turn corruption into politics by another name. But it is the tension between state and extra-state that gives both their power.