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Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  224 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
• Thousands of Africans head to China each year to buy cell phones, auto parts, and other products that they will import to their home countries through a clandestine global back channel.
 
• Hundreds of Paraguayan merchants smuggle computers, electronics, and clothing across the border to Brazil.
 
• Scores of laid-off San Franciscans, working without any licenses, use Twitt
...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Pantheon (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

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Shane
Jan 22, 2015 Shane rated it liked it
Shelves: economic-liberty
Three and a half stars. This was a very difficult book to for me to rate. It is a well written and entertaining travelogue style look at the informal economy around the world. It doesn't matter if you call it Systeme D, Jua Kali, or the grey market; it exists and it is huge.

All throughout this book I was reminded of my High-School English teacher, who tried to relate "The Stranger" and "Siddhartha" (existentialism and situational ethics) with a profoundly Lutheran fundamentalist perspective. Sh
...more
guiltlessreader
Feb 03, 2012 guiltlessreader rated it really liked it
An eye-opening book about the informal economy and its power to provide much-needed jobs and sustain economies. Full review coming soon!
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Full review on my blog guiltlessreading

My thoughts: The title is an extremely witty take on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations the commonly accepted Economics 101 textbook espousing free market economies. Each chapter opens with an excerpt from Wealth of Nations and is expounded on in throughout the chapter (with rather amusing titles, like "The Global Rummage
...more
Samuel
Aug 24, 2015 Samuel rated it liked it
Shelves: male, usa, 2015
I really enjoyed the first-hand accounts of how the global informal economy functions worldwide, but I found the economic analysis muddled and not at all helpful. There is an entire chapter about why the informal economy can't be formalized, only for the final chapter to lay out possible solutions for formalizing the informal economy ranging from a libertarian approach to a communitarian approach. It would have been helpful to lay out some of the economic principles besides just excessive regula ...more
Dave Burns
Jan 31, 2012 Dave Burns rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up
Ive been craving a book on the informal market. Unfortunately this author makes it seem dull.
Don
Jul 21, 2013 Don rated it liked it
Much of the tone as well as the argument used in Neuwirth's book resonate with those of Doug Saunders in Arrival City. It is quite simply that people must persist, even when the rules and regulations of the societies they live in seem to require their extinction. When those rules and regulations are intended to sustain a market in which all the necessities of existence are traded at the rate that supports the market, and when that rate is beyond the means of a sizeable proportion of people, then ...more
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Aug 01, 2012 Ethan Cramer-Flood rated it liked it
Stealth of Nations is an anecdotally driven exploration of an important and often overlooked slice of the global economic pie. Neuwirth uses mostly journalistic techniques to make the easily convincing case that the staggering amounts of informal markets, street hawkers, unregistered merchants, and other extra-legal small business people thriving all over the developing world make up a significant (and invisible) portion of many country's total GDP. He then does a competent job of diving into th ...more
Matt
Nov 14, 2011 Matt rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Written in much more of a literary travelogue style than I'd expected, although this isn't a criticism. Neuwirth does a great job of exploring the various incarnations of "System D", the underground grey and black markets of the global economy that defy, avoid, or even replace formal government. Contrary to our expectations, the shadow economy produces an enormous output, second only to the GDP of the United States. Neuwirth takes us to China, Nigeria, and Paraguay, introducing us to street merc ...more
Margaret Sankey
Feb 10, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Taken together, the millions of tiny businesses in the developing world (and on the margins of the First World) are an economic powerhouse, generating in their volume enormous amounts of money and potential economic advancement for the people who undertake to peddle, smuggle, scrounge, resell, recycle and deliver. Neuwirth, who traveled to a variety of locations to observe public markets, diaspora communities of African wholesale buyers in China, giant trash dumps and water selling in Lagos is r ...more
Jeff Raymond
Jan 30, 2012 Jeff Raymond rated it really liked it
I tend to shy away from books like this, mostly because they tend to be more about expanding magazine-level journalism into a book-length treatise when it isn't necessary. The good thing is that Stealth of Nations would definitely make a good magazine treatment while being interesting and detailed enough for a book.

The book is more or less a quick and easy read about the underground economy - the selling of pirated materials in China, unlicensed food vendors in San Francisco, the sale of water i
...more
Vanessa van den Boogaard
Not brilliantly written, while language is often used carelessly. Despite this, overall, Neuwirth presents an interesting in-depth perspective into the informal economy, humanizing the lives and accounts of informal sector workers and firms while remaining grounded in the dominant academic theories and narratives of this growing field of study.

Nevertheless, I would challenge his generally rosy view of the sector, including both the challenges of formalizing and remaining informal. While the succ
...more
Stephen Yoder
Jul 20, 2015 Stephen Yoder rated it really liked it
I'm glad I bought this book. For me it has expanded upon the writings by Sudhir Venkatesh where he examines a number of working class neighborhoods in Chicago and how economic exchange happens outside of taxable transactions. Neuwirth's focus is much more global, clearly. He's showing how "System D" adds tremendous value to nations as well as many entrepreneurs (and all sorts of levels in between), which is a concept rather foreign to many in the elite and government policymakers. I don't see ma ...more
John Wolter
Jun 22, 2013 John Wolter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy is a discussion of the "informal economy", also known as "System D". These are the businesses that operate partially or completely outside of the formal economic system, i.e. without licenses, without paying taxes, bypassing customs duties, outside of the rules. The author does a good job of examining a variety of these businesses from a variety of perspectives. For example, is a business that operates without a required license a crimi ...more
Scott Schneider
May 12, 2012 Scott Schneider rated it liked it
Stealth of Nations is about the "underground" economy and how important it is to world trade. The book focuses mostly on Nigeria and Argentina. It makes a strong case that these workers, selling smuggled goods, pirated DVDs, etc. play a very significant role in global trade. While governments would like to regulate them and tax them, it is best for governments to develop relationships with them and give them a break to allow them to thrive. I wish this book had spent more time talking about the ...more
Carol
Dec 21, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it
An amazing look at how half of the world earns money. Neuwirth introduces us to entrepreneurs in South America, Africa and Asia who are making a living (sometimes barely) in what he calls "System D," or the unofficial, underground and often illegal economy. You don't have to visit a large flea market or be accosted by purse vendors in Rome to come in contact with System D. Neuwirth counters many of the arguments against the system with a few steady points: governments not only can't stop the sys ...more
Katherine Collins
May 05, 2014 Katherine Collins rated it really liked it
To me, these books are a trilogy of tales for our new, webbed-together world: Slaughter discusses the political and philosophical implications of a system that is no longer structured by nation-states. Gilman explores the awful underside of globalization, where more efficient flow of trade combined with uneven social, economic, and legal conditions have led to an exploitable “moral arbitrage”. Neuwirth examines the gigantic informal economy (NOT the same as Gilman’s – we’re talking street vendor ...more
Richard Knight
Oct 05, 2012 Richard Knight rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author challenges you to consider the existence and the importance of System D (the informal economy). The real life examples provide excellent insights into how these local economies function and participate within the global economy. I recommend this to anyone with a curiosity about how the world functions outside of the tradtional Western business model, and to those with the foresight to consider System D as a potential untapped distribution channel.
John Doe
Feb 13, 2016 John Doe rated it it was amazing
I am giving this book 5 stars for its very interesting and sympathetic treatment of a subject (thankfully) ignored by all the mainstream economists. Its well written and enjoyable as well as genuinely covering new ground. From an analysis viewpoint I may proceed differently on some chapters (as an experienced analyst) but nothing takes away from the entirely sympathetic and original thoughts in this work. Well done Neuwirth and you will enjoy it if you study cities, countries and economics.
Jacqueline
Jan 10, 2012 Jacqueline rated it liked it
This is a good book. I liked it better when the author was talking about the informal economy in Nigeria and parts of South America; the ingenuity, efficiency and entrepreneurial energy of the citizens (not the government). When the Mr. Neuwirth starts talking about policy and making policy suggestions, I thought the book started to drag. I think the policy piece should be separate book.
Luis Sossa
Aug 12, 2013 Luis Sossa rated it liked it
Stealth of Nations is a window into the realm of entrepreneurs in the developing world. Some reviewers say this book isn't about economics, and although it may be so, it did remind me of how resilient men and women can be to overcome financial hardship and make an honest living. Success is not only about seizing opportunities available, but creating them, and that is the moral of this story.
mayhugh
Jan 08, 2012 mayhugh marked it as to-read
When we think of the informal economy, we tend to think of crime: prostitution, gun running, drug trafficking. Stealth of Nations opens up this underground realm, showing how the worldwide informal economy deals mostly in legal products and is, in fact, a ten-trillion-dollar industry, making it the second-largest economy in the world, after that of the United States.
Alexandra
Feb 20, 2014 Alexandra rated it really liked it
While it took me a few chapters to get into the book, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a subject oh which I knew little about. Some chapters towards the end I found incredibly insightful and knowledgable.
Dash Williams
Intrepid adventurer travels the world of underground trade, gains valuable insights, and goes native. If he'd have ended the story by opening his own auto-parts import business in Lagos, this book would be like "Dances With Wolves" for people who work off the books.
Cordelia
Mar 18, 2012 Cordelia rated it really liked it
This is an interesting look at some economic activity in the developing world and even the US. For all of you that love to watch the hive of activity on the busy streets of a developing world city, this will be familiar and add some perspective.
Scott Laws
Jul 31, 2013 Scott Laws rated it liked it
Entertaining introduction to the field of informal economies. For someone interested in deeper study, this book provides interesting anecdotes that illustrate concepts.
Amze
Dec 08, 2012 Amze rated it really liked it
Shelves: guilty-work
Great research, interesting book. Exuberant tone gets a little tiring.
Tracey
NPR: Fresh Air interview w/ author 19 Oct 2011
Irus
Nov 28, 2012 Irus rated it it was ok
On page 69
Madeeha Maqbool
Apr 28, 2013 Madeeha Maqbool rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After all the trouble I went through to get this book, I'm glad (for its sake) that it was totally worth it.
Elisabeth
System D or the illegal way of doing business...
Donald Parker
Aug 27, 2012 Donald Parker rated it really liked it
Fascinating book about "system D" , an entire level of economics that most of us didn't know existed.
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“At the same time, it asserts an important truth: what happens on Rua 25 de Março and in all the unregistered markets and roadside kiosks of the world is not simply haphazard. It is a product of intelligence, resilience, self-organization, and group solidarity, and it follows a number of well-worn though unwritten rules. It is, in that sense, a system. It” 0 likes
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