Notes from the ‘Slumdog Economist’

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Published on October 21, 2014 with No Comments

As campaign 2012 slings mud about jobs, job creation and who might be best equipped to improve American lives with jobs, the Black Market or informal economy of the world’s poor has grown to the tune of about $10 trillion. This shadow economy which provides jobs and sustenance for about half of earth’s population is slated to expand to nearly two-thirds of the population by 2020. And it was created without any intervention or policies at the government level. This, according to Robert Neuwirth, author of “Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy.” Some refer to him as the ‘Slumdog Economist,” due to his focus on the economic activity of the world’s shantytowns. If this unregulated, shadow market were a country it would be the world’s second largest economy, behind only the U.S.

Robert Neuwirth - PopTech 2011 - Camden Maine USA

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The group of Neuwirth’s musings is not the criminal gun and drug running sector, but rather the world’s unregulated hawkers trading in everything from street food to laundry detergent. While much of the goods sold by unlicensed, non-tax-paying, street hawkers may originate in China, it turns out that Proctor & Gamble works behind the scenes to get products such as Tide and Downy into this pipeline as well. Neuwirth says that ‘Underground’ sells more of P & G’s product than Walmart. A large Nigerian food company sells its sausage rolls entirely through this informal market even as it markets other goods through more conventional methods. As long as people need food and clothing, the unregulated economy will thrive. Neuwirth is convinced that the shadow economy is powered by mobile phones, of which there are 1.6 billion in the world. To him, this phenomenon shows entrepreneurialism, innovation and a lot of creative thinking all rolled into one.

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