To research his new book, "Stealth of Nations," Robert Neuwirth spent four years among street vendors, smugglers and “informal” import/export firms.
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.
“The human spirit radiated out from the metal walls and garbage heaps to offer something no legal neighborhood could: freedom.”
“When 20 families — 100 people or so — share a single latrine, a boy pooping on a garbage pile is perhaps no big thing.”
“The United Street Sellers Republic — the USSR — [would be] the second-largest economy in the world after the United States.”
“[The informal economy] is happening openly and aboveboard. There's nothing underground about it.”
“[Sneaker manufacturers] use piracy as market research. … If they find that Pumas are being pirated or Adidas are being pirated and their sneakers aren't being pirated, they know they've done something wrong.”