Doing Business Below the Line: Screening, Mafias and Public Funds
Abstract: Criminal organizations make large profits misappropriating public funds, causing an economic loss for the state and the strengthening of criminal groups. This paper evaluates a policy aimed at fighting this phenomenon and the displacement effects the policy caused. In 2013, the Italian government enforced a law screening mafia-related firms out of the application for European subsidies when applying for more than 150,000 Euros. We exploit this time-varying discontinuity to identify firms self-selecting below the threshold after the law was approved. We observe a large jump in firms applying for just below 150,000 Euros after 2013. Firms sorting are more likely to come from mafia-affected cities, display worse performances, operate in typical mafia-affected sectors and have balance sheet indicators suggesting potential for money laundering. The jump we identify corresponds to 3.8% of all subsidies assigned in our sample. Our findings shed light on the extent to which mafia-connected firms misappropriate public funds and on the effectiveness of screening policies applied discontinuously when mafias behave strategically.