For the past year, the media has depicted Mexico as besieged by drug cartels, which have mired the country in corruption and violence on an unprecedented scale. Marc Lacey of The New York Times says the problem is even worse that drug cartels--and that calling the perpetrators "cartels" underplays their terrible significance. As Lacey says, the question everyone should be asking is, “Are they really cartels?”

Cartels are organizations that control prices and production. They often divide territories, rig bids and engage in other collusive acts. On the international relations front, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is the most famous example ... Much of the carnage in Mexico, it turns out, is evidence that these so-called cartels are not really cartels, in an economic sense of the word. Whatever cooperation these cartels once had has now largely broken down. Inter- and intra-cartel violence is responsible for the vast majority of the drug-related murders in the country, law enforcement officials in Mexico and the United States maintain.