To research his new book, "Stealth of Nations," Robert Neuwirth spent four years among street vendors, smugglers and “informal” import/export firms.

Why you should listen

In his 2012 book Stealth of Nations, Robert Neuwirth challenges conventional thinking by examining the world's informal economy close up. To do so, he spent four years living and working with street vendors and gray marketers, to capture its scope, its vigor--and its lessons. He calls it “System D” and argues that it is not a hidden economy, but a very visible, growing, effective one, fostering entrepreneurship and representing 1.8 billion jobs worldwide.

Before this, for his previous book Shadow Cities (also a TEDTalk), he spent two years exploring one of the most profound trends of our time: the mass migration of the world's population into urban shantytowns. A billion people live as squatters. Life in a favela, slum, shantytown is hard: no water, no transport, no sewage. But in the squatter cities of Rio, Nairobi, Istanbul and Mumbai, Neuwirth discovered restaurants, markets, clinics and effective forms of self-organization.

Our challenge, Neuwirth says, isn't to end squatter cities or shut down gray markets--but to engage and empower those who live and work in them.


What others say

“[Neuwirth shines] an investigative lens into areas of urban life that have seldom been described before.” — Reason magazine

Robert Neuwirth’s TED talks

Robert Neuwirth on the TED Blog
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TEDxKibera: From a humble location comes a visionary event

August 19, 2009

On Saturday August 15, a TEDx event was held in Kibera, the largest squatter city in Africa and home to nearly a million Kenyans. Suraj Sudhakar, an Acumen Fellow, hosted the ambitious event. Sudhakar has begun several projects in low-income communities, from improving housing conditions through financial consolidation to sanitation by promotion of the Eco-toilet […]

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