The most popular post apocalyptic despotic rulers of a collapsed American apocalypse-in-progress novels are the gang-bangers. Before them it was often the motor cycle gangs that ruled the collapsed world. The shift starting sometime in the 1980s, with Newton Thornburg's Valhalla (1980) being the earliest example I know of where the motorcyclists don't make an appearance, but the gang bangers (called Mau Mau) are there.
Since we are all about the historical precedence that lies behind possible apocalyptics, it might be nice to know how at least some of today crime syndicates came to be.
In this case we have a very nice study of the rise of the Mafia.
Paolo Buonanno, Ruben Durante, Giovanni Prarolo, and Paolo Vanin, 1 May 2011 (hat tip: FTA via MR)
This research attempts to explain the large differences in the early diffusion of the mafia across different areas of Sicily. We advance the hypothesis that, after the demise of Sicilian feudalism, the lack of publicly provided property-right protection from widespread banditry favored the development of a florid market for private protection and the emergence of a cartel of protection providers: the mafia. This would especially be the case in those areas (prevalently concentrated in the Western part of the island) characterized by the production and commercialization of sulphur and citrus fruits, Sicily’s most valuable export goods whose international demand was soaring at the time.
I think to some degree they understand that they are discussing necessary conditions, not deterministic causality. They note that there are other factors involved:
The evidence presented here suggests that, under given economic circumstances, geographic characteristics may have contributed to the emergence of particular forms of social organizations (criminal ones in this case) which have persisted overtime and continue to have non-negligible socio-economic effects.
In this case the nature of sulphur production was an important factor: The need to get the mule trains safely to market through very rugged terrain.
Eventually the conclude that the following factors were paramount:
- The increasing value of citrus fruits and sulphur were the funding agents
- The lack of protective organizations within the productive or transport areas
- The roughness of the terrain
- Population density - the Mafia grew first where there were more people.
Not all of these are obvious. IMO the population correlation is because there are only a fraction of people within a society who are interested in doing this type of work, the more people you have available the larger the pool to select from. On the flip side a larger population generally also has more criminal opportunities available.
One item, I think is closely related to what I have said in the past about Pirates. You need commerce, and you need trade, to have sophisticated criminal organizations. There is no point in robbing and pillaging if there is nothing you can do exchange the excess loot that you will develop in certain categories.