“There is another economy out there,” writes American journalist Robert Neuwirth in Stealth of Nations (Pantheon). “It is how much of the world survives, and how many people thrive, yet it is ignored by most economists, business leaders, and politicians.” The $10 trillion economy to which Neuwirth refers is made up of the ubiquitous street markets and unlicensed bazaars in cities such as Lagos, São Paolo, and Guangzhou. Its entrepreneurs are importers of fake handbags, hawkers of pirated DVDs, wholesalers of papayas, and drivers of clandestine taxis.
These vibrant, bustling markets are often called the “informal” or “shadow” economy. But Neuwirth proposes jettisoning the traditional terms, along with their connotations of illicit activity and under-development, in favor of “System D,” from the Francophone African phrase “l’economie de la débrouillardise,” or “economy of resourcefulness”—a fitting revision for these spontaneous markets that employ half the world’s workers. —Tate Watkins