Property rights are evolving, and rapidly:
Vigilante militias are alleged to have taken over Rio de Janeiro
slums, ruling as feudal lords and imposing taxes, as a result of the
collapse of legal policing in these areas.
The vigilante militias are made up of off-duty police officers
and former police officers. They work to expel drug traffickers and
other criminals from favelas, known as Brazil‘s poorest and roughest neighborhoods, to set up protection rackets themselves.
According to Rio De Janeiro’s public security department, 92
favelas are now controlled by militias, up from 42 in April 2005. They
take over a new neighborhood at an average of 12 days.
Sociologist Ignacio Cano, who works for the Rio de Janeiro
State University, said that the root of the phenomenon is a quest by
corrupt police officers for more money, against the backdrop of falling
drug profits and a drop in bribery.
These officers have decided to take direct control of the
areas and seek other ways to extract cash from Rio’s poorest, he said.
Militias then demand protection money from the neighborhood
they have captured: taxing residents five to seven U.S. dollars per
head for living in the area; demanding two dollars for each tank of
natural gas, the most common source of heat for cooking; and charging
local taxis for entering the area.
Two questions: first, which groups are the most efficient "bandit-controllers" of the favelas? Should it be someone who will continue to live there, or someone who owns land there (informally perhaps), or someone altogether different?
Second, would drug legalization do much to limit crime in this setting? If a group can create a territorial monopoly on selling drugs, and drugs cease to be very profitable, cannot that same territorial monopoly be transferred to other goods and services, as we seem to be observing? In Rhode Island the vending machine business was long corrupt. It may be claimed that the illegality of drugs makes them a special target, but keep in mind the laws are not and cannot be enforced inside the favelas. It is the favela boss who issues the relevant dictates.
As for Rio, here is what went on earlier this week. I am happy to report that all three of us are back home safe and sound.