Cosa Nostra Courts

42 Pages Posted: 6 Dec 2021 Last revised: 20 Jun 2022

See all articles by Henry A. Thompson

Henry A. Thompson

University of Mississippi - Department of Economics

Date Written: June 15, 2022


This paper uses economic reasoning to analyze the traditions and institutions of one of the most successful criminal organizations in modern American history: La Cosa Nostra (LCN). Drawing on recently declassified FBI reports, I argue that LCN’s core institutions helped protect its low- profile status, an asset vulnerable to free riding by its own members. Individual members did not bear the full costs of profile-raising police investigations and thus had a perverse incentive to resolve disputes violently. LCN preserved its low profile by incentivizing peaceful reconciliation. La Cosa Nostra rules, and, more importantly, its surprisingly formal court system, kept disputes from escalating into violence, thereby helping LCN avoid profile-threatening investigations. LCN’s longevity and success are, in part, a testament to the institutions’ efficacy.

Keywords: La Cosa Nostra, courts, secrecy, dispute resolution

JEL Classification: K4, L2

Suggested Citation

Thompson, Henry, Cosa Nostra Courts (June 15, 2022). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 21-42, Available at SSRN: or

Henry Thompson (Contact Author)

University of Mississippi - Department of Economics ( email )

207 Odom Hall
Oxford, MS 38677
United States

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