The social context of economic (dis)order

In between ‘work’ books, I polished of this weekend by Norman Lewis. His travel books span the decades from the 50s to 2003, when he died at the age of 95. The biographical note in this reprint of a 1978 book says he was proudest of his work campaigning for the rights of indigenous people in Latin America. All round, he obviously had an astonishingly rich and varied life. I highly recommend this book.

[amazon_image id=”0907871720″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Naples ’44: An Intelligence Officer in the Italian Labyrinth[/amazon_image]

This account of Naples in the immediate aftermath of the Allied landings is an extraordinary evocation of a starving, chaotic lawless city, in which Lewis’s job as a member of the Field Security Service was to create some order. Needless to say, this was impossible. The black market demonstrated its usual vigour and more, given that the Allied Military Government was led by the US, who had selected Italian-Americans – naturally – to run the show in Italy. These men were – naturally – Mafia or Camorra. They and their nominees filled any vacuum left by the collapse of civil society and the departure of the Germans.

This ordered-disorder is quite a contrast to the spontaneous order of the prisoner of war camp economy described by R.A.Radford in his 1945 article. The social relations and cultural norms make all the difference to how economies operate even in two similarly resource-poor contexts.

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