Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy” as Want to Read:
Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  250 Ratings  ·  35 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
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Pantheon (first published 2010)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Stealth of Nations, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Stealth of Nations

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Jan 22, 2015 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
Feb 03, 2012 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!
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
Aug 24, 2015 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up
Ive been craving a book on the informal market. Unfortunately this author makes it seem dull.
Jul 21, 2013 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
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
The informal economy, black money etc etc. The names while sounding exotic are nothing but livelihood of people who are trying their level best to survive. The book talks about various ways and means that people around the globe have worked on to make a living. I mean honest living minus lot of government red tape. The author has traveled the world to all the right places starting from Brazil, Africa & China. Really interesting stuff going around which goes around in spite of corruption, lac ...more
Erik Surewaard
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was always under the impression that the informal economy (think of unregistered companies; not paying taxes) was bad for the economy. Well... this book changed my opinion. Not for all cases though... For developing countries this informal economy clearly makes sense.

This book is a combination of different stories that the author experienced. The stories are most likely collected by the authors visits. The stories cover mainly South-America and Africa.

I think the book could be presented in a
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Worth a read. Insightful. And an important area of economic activity. Great stories and descriptions of the so called informal market, its necessity and value. Analysis of how to transform or scale it is limited. Bibliography but limited.
Ethan Cramer-Flood
Aug 01, 2012 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
Nov 14, 2011 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 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 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
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
Stephen Yoder
Jul 20, 2015 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 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 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
Dec 21, 2011 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 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 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 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.
Jan 10, 2012 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 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.
Jan 08, 2012 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.
Feb 20, 2014 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.
Mar 18, 2012 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.
Dec 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: guilty-work
Great research, interesting book. Exuberant tone gets a little tiring.
NPR: Fresh Air interview w/ author 19 Oct 2011
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
On page 69
Madeeha Maqbool
Apr 28, 2013 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.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World
  • Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World
  • The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech
  • Plundered Planet: Why We Must--And How We Can--Manage Nature for Global Prosperity
  • The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations
  • A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media
  • Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects
  • Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection
  • Curation Nation: How to Win in a World Where Consumers Are Creators
  • The Penguin and the Leviathan: The Triumph of Cooperation Over Self-Interest
  • The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth
  • Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City
  • The $10 Trillion Prize: Captivating the Newly Affluent in China and India
  • Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success
  • The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems
  • Not Impossible: The Art and Joy of Doing What Couldn't Be Done
  • Essays on political economy
  • The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros are Fixing our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy
“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
More quotes…