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

Why you should listen

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 he argues that it's not a hidden economy but a very visible, growing, effective one that fosters entrepreneurship and represents 1.8 billion jobs worldwide.

For his previous book, Shadow CitiesNeuwirth 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

More news and ideas from Robert Neuwirth


6 fascinating talks charting informal economies

September 5, 2012

When we hear the phrase “the economy,” often the first images that pop to mind are crisp bills being printed in a government treasury, or suited traders wheeling and dealing on the floor of a stock exchange, or a mall where suburban shoppers buy T-shirts and sneakers before grabbing a Cinnabon. But as journalist Robert […]

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