It’s the second largest economy in the world. Within the decade, it may sustain two-thirds of the planet’s workers, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and even rival the United States. But it’s not China: It’s the bazaars, vendors, and informal markets of the world.
Robert Neuwirth’s new book, Stealth of Nations, reveals the dealings of back-alley capitalism. And unlike the austerity of the developed world, it’s doing pretty well. After several years living in the slums and cities of Brazil, China, and Africa, Neuwirth argues the world’s governments should embrace informal (and mostly legal) markets as an alternative form of economic organization. That’s not just because they improve the lives of millions of entrepreneurs and their customers, creating upward mobility in otherwise dysfunctional systems, but because we have no choice. Either we cooperate with the off-the-books economic activity exploding in the developing world, or we clash counter-productively with them at every turn.