Criminal Organizations: An Economic Perspective

Inside the World of Organized Crime
Popular TV shows like Narcos, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy and The Sopranos purport to portray the workings of organized crime, and their huge audiences reveal our fascination with this hidden underworld. Likewise, news coverage of real-life scandals feeds our curiosity about the way criminality permeates government, society and the economy.
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master, open to PhD staff and professionals
Session 220 July to 3 August 2019
Recommended course 
Session 1: International Criminal Justice
Session 3: Transnational Policing
Co-ordinating lecturersDr Juan P. Mendoza
Other lecturersDr Clarissa Meerts and guest from the Netherlands Institute 
for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement
Form(s) of tuitionLectures, group sessions (including videos, discussions, 
class activities, interactive webtools), excursions
Form(s) of assessmentMultiple-choice tests, group assignments (mid-term presentation and 
“amazing race” – see Excursions), individual report on a specific crime
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours45
Tuition fee€1150
Students and professionals from any background with an interest in organized crime and criminal organizations. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds.

This course takes a fresh approach to the study of organized crime by viewing it through the prism of business and economics. For example, how do criminal organizations deal with competitors? Do they have a “brand”? How do they recruit new talent and innovate? 

The syllabus is divided into four blocks. 

  • Terminology (definitions and concepts), types of organized crime and criminal organization, key distinctions between criminal and non-criminal organizations.
  • Inside the criminal organization: structure, divisions, human resources, operations.
  • Outside the organization: monopolies versus competitive markets, old versus new crimes, disruptive innovations, symbioses with legal economic activities.
  • Enforcement: the link between organized crime and corruption, economic incentives to reduce organized crime, the costs, benefits and feasibility of prohibition versus legalization strategies. 
  • You also undertake an individual assignment tailored to your own interests. Someone involved in technology, for example, can explore how criminal organizations operate in the deep web or whether bitcoins facilitate cybercrime. 

Learning about organized crime in Amsterdam is special in itself, as several of our topics have particular local relevance: mafia activity, the production and trafficking of ecstasy, money laundering and tax evasion. The course excursions allow you to observe and discuss these issues outside the classroom. 

1. Visit to Amsterdam city centre, looking at how activities considered illegal elsewhere are tolerated and regulated here and at how criminal organizations operate in this context.
2. “Amazing race” challenge in Amsterdam, covering locations related to alleged money laundering, tax evasion, human trafficking and so on.
3. Visit to the Port of Amsterdam to see how criminal organizations use ports and exploit their vulnerabilities.

At the end of this course, you:

  • Can describe criminal organizations and organized crime from a business perspective.
  • Are familiar with the basic terminology and theories describing the ways criminal organizations operate in practice.
  • Can identify economic and business logic in observable organized crimes.
  • Are able to question and evaluate the usefulness of incentives, both economic and non-economic, in regulating or deterring organized crime. 

Prof pic

Juan Mendoza's academic background is in economics and social psychology. His main interest is in why firms and individuals follow or break the law. His work experience includes economic planning (central government), journalism (business magazine), and research. Part of his current research involves collaboration projects with the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets. He also coordinates the corporate governance course of the International Business Administration program.

"Organized crime refers to undesirable, yet fascinating behavior. Because criminal and non-criminal organizations are similar in many ways, it is possible to use the same tools to analyze them. This course is ideal for those who want to understand why criminal organizations are created, maintained, and dissolved. As we advance, we will also look at what Amsterdam has to say about organized crime – at the street and corporate levels."

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