Saturday, December 03, 2016

American Gangster

How Al Capone became semi-legitimate:
The Al Capone story is, as Bair suggests, a peculiarly American epic. He built an empire by selling liquor during Prohibition (which outlawed alcohol between 1920 and 1933). “When I sell liquor, they call it bootlegging,” he famously quipped. “When my patrons serve it on silver trays on Lake Shore Drive, they call it hospitality.” His gang also operated brothels, ran gambling joints and extorted businesses and unions.

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Making Chicago safe for sin took nothing less than organizational genius. Capone raked in up to $105 million a year (over $1.3 billion in today’s dollars) and spent roughly a third of it on bribes and muscle — gangsters, judges, politicians, reporters and half the cops in Chicago crowded onto the payroll. To this day, Harvard Business School students study Capone’s strategies to reflect on the best and worst of American capitalism.

Lawbreaking on this scale required pliant government. When Chicago elected a reform mayor in 1923, the mob moved to Cicero, Ill., and pushed its favored slate of politicians into office. The violence and intimidation on Election Day grew so intense that police squadrons came racing from Chicago, and the ensuing gunfight killed Al’s brother Frank. Four years later, the Capone organization backed “Big Bill” Thompson’s successful bid for mayor of Chicago. Thompson was notoriously corruptible, and his election became known as the “pineapple primary” — the bombs that mobsters tossed into polling places to discourage the wrong sort of voters looked like pineapples.
He always did say he was just a used furniture salesman...

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