If you want to see “the future of the global economy,” look under the table, said Robert Neuwirth. The $10 trillion black market amounts to “an economic superpower” second in size only to the U.S. By the end of the decade, two thirds of the world’s workers are expected to be off the books. And contrary to popular belief, this global shadow economy is not a system of criminal enterprises, but “inventive, self-starting, entrepreneurial merchants” who run market stalls and transnational trading businesses alike. The Nigerian businessman who imports power generators from China under the table is one of many bringing “machinery, mobile phones, computers, and more” to places that are otherwise off the grid.
This underground system challenges our established trade agreements, copyright rules, and labor laws, but “there’s plenty that’s positive, too.” The informal economy “distributes products more equitably and cheaply than any big company can,” and it’s narrowing the digital divide. We can learn a lot from the “resilience, self-organization, and group solidarity” that drive trade in the shadows.